(Image courtesy of Annapurna Pictures via EPK.tv)
EVERY MOVIE HAS A LESSON’S 750TH REVIEW
VICE— 3 STARS
This may be skipping to the end, but the fly fishing symbolism of the end credits of Adam McKay’s Vice grandly expresses the entire deceptive and subversive tone of the entire film. Each celebrated name graces the screen alongside a panning close-up of a specially designed fly that includes a finishing flourish matching an aspect about that listed character or their situation. Those lures represent different baits for different fish, all of which were meant to entice a fateful bite. We don’t think of a meek and serene fly fisherman, dressed in waders, a sun-blocking hat, and bad flannel or khaki apparel, as a hunter or killer, but tell that to the trout on the dinner plate that evening. Vice is cinematic enticement imploring you to have seafood for your movie meal.
LESSON #1: POLITICIANS ARE HUNTERS OF POWER — For nearly fifty years, former Congressman and Vice President Richard Bruce Cheney has been the seemingly unassuming angler and many, many people and institutions have been the fillets on his plate. Dick’s strong stances were his waders to step into any muck or stream. His thick glasses and furrowed brow of toughened composure were his hat to block the solar heat of criticism. The dark suits draped over his portly frame were Cheney’s uniform of camouflage to blend in with other Washington suits. All the while, what he and the other pols hunted was influence and dominance.
One rub of duality with that all that symbolism present in Vice is that Dick Cheney absolutely loves to fish. With more dismissive scowls than joking winks, thinly veiled outrage outweighs the drink-clinking humor in Adam McKay’s film presenting a biography of one of the least favored men in American political history. Hazy in some moments, hasty in others, and always provocative, Vice is easily the most polarizing film of the year. The movie is not unlike Cheney’s own aim with a shotgun, hitting and missing plenty with occasional collateral damage.
Three distinct voices push Vice along. The first is the subject himself. From his drunken roughneck beginnings through his cold senior years of White House authority, Dick Cheney is methodically played by Academy Award winner Christian Bale. The Welsh thespian transformed every fiber of himself inside and out to embody the individual. The disquieted grunts and grumbles of his graveled voice and speech cadence mask the former Batman and Patrick Bateman. Every cleared throat is like a round being chambered and each “okay then” is an fired affirmation of twisted agenda. His mumbles rumble as Bale takes the groused character movements and creates a searing performance.
LESSON #2: WATCH OUT FOR THE QUIET ONES — A factoid laced in Vice presents the perfect quotation of “Beware the quiet man. For while others speak, he watched. And while others act, he plans. And when they finally rest… he strikes.” That’s a bullseye for Dick Cheney himself.
In most typical political films, the wife is the stand-by-your-man type and marginalized partner waiting and wondering when work and the rat races will end. That’s not Lynne Cheney or Amy Adams. The five-time (and, dare I say, soon to be six-time) Oscar nominee crackles as the second voice to tell this story. She is the motivating mouthpiece speaking with crackling cinders to support her husband’s climb to success and demand the same staunch beliefs. The Cheneys’ story is cross-crossed by the influential and empowering people like Steve Carell’s cantankerous Donald Rumsfeld, Sam Rockwell’s cocky George W. Bush, and Tyler Perry’s principled Colin Powell that advanced Dick’s position on the Washington chess board.
LESSON #2: POWER WILL ALWAYS TRY TO TAKE YOUR POWER — You’re not playing the political game in D.C. if you don’t earn a target on your back and smiling handshakes of opposition. The jealousy is huge and the Cheneys know it with their full guard up at all times, especially if it means protecting their position, legacy, or family including their two daughters Mary and Liz (Alison Pill and Lily Rabe, respectively).
Just when you think Carell and Rockwell come off as the wildest of possible caricatures, Vice presents its third chief voice, a fourth-wall-breaking narrator in Jesse Plemons. He is the initially non-specific yet omniscient Frank, an American everyman and War on Terror veteran explaining the devils in the details being recreated on screen with solid production detail and period feel. By the end, what Frank represents adds another rub to McKay’s agitated narrative of accusations. Combined, all of these players are an outstanding ensemble swimming with the sharks like unafraid synchronized swimmers with teeth of their own.
All of sordid events and power plays spanning decades and numerous White House regimes are unapologetically laid at the feet of the real Dick Cheney. McKay means to disarm and incense with Vice and it is impossible not to have a reaction to the warmongering you see dramatized before you. The film has a brazen sense of self-awareness to snipe its critics before they even arrive. In the same way that Dick Cheney is emboldened to the end to do “what needed to be done,” Vice is equally indignant. That hellbent attitude is admirable and problematic at the same time.
Elements of Vice miss with a crisis of identity behind the camera as well as in front of it. This film feels like a Lite version of Spike Lee or Oliver Stone with shots of slow-motion smearing scenes and the interlacing of archival and fictitious (portrayed by Naomi Watts’ nameless cable news anchor) media citations and footnotes. Nicholas Britell’s stern score is trying too hard to be Terence Blanchard. Adam McKay, who scored an Oscar with the kinetic satire of The Big Short, has aimed higher here and the gravity of the setting slows his grifter’s swiftness. Adam’s willingness to drive loose may have swerved too loose with Vice. His opening credits say it best with “but we did our f — king best.”
LESSON #3: BEWARE OF THE UNITARY EXECUTIVE THEORY — We are in the middle of a society immersing themselves in political information fitting their sides of views. The red flag lesson McKay points to the most as this film’s citation source of outrage towards how and why someone like Dick Cheney happens is the Unitary Executive Theory. Googling that term and UNODIRthrough reputable sources (meaning no crazy right-wing blogs) are your homework assignment.
LOGO DESIGNED BY MEENTS ILLUSTRATED (#750)