The White House may have known ferocious villains in the past, but nothing compared to the one Adam McKay introduces us to in his newest biopic Vice, in which we come face-to-face with Vile slash VP Dick Cheney.
McKay’s Dick Cheney, Master among the masters, is a Yale drop-out and a disappointing husband turned politician, almost by accident. It is only after his wife Lynne (Amy Adams) threatens to leave that Dick finally blooms into the best snake charmer the reptile house has ever known. And later in his prolific career, the story tells us how he ends up serving as George W. Bush’s Vice President (Sam Rockwell), after multiple years spent prowling at the heart of US political power.
On the political front, Vice makes itself clear and presents Cheney as the main American plague, a still very much living, breathing, walking disease, spreading his tentacles from past to present. The pace can be exhausting at times, but the general eccentricity of storytelling keeps us involved, at least for a little while. It is on its main character’s private life that the film doesn’t have anything new to say. Dick likes: one, his family, two, fishing. And that’s about it. He always goes after the big fish in cases of extreme necessity, the perfect metaphor for his career in general. But that is the only visible facet this character offers. We never fully grasp what Cheney’s real ambition is, apart from wreaking havoc, according to McKay.
Nuance isn’t what Vice is aiming for. It’s got big boots and enjoys jumping in muddy puddles with both feet, and in that sense, it feels a lot like McKay’s The Big Short. But when an incisive and bold political analysis could have been made, the film falls into the trap of conspiracy at all cost. Everything is roughly explained via a magnifying lens focusing solely on Cheney’s gloomy milestones. Therefore, the narrative lacks the mix of cleverly measured precision and intensity the complexity of the situation demands. Too bad McKay knows how to throw Cheney into the lion’s den but doesn’t quite know how to properly bite.
The director primarily counts on his charismatic duo, pushing it to the fore, to give Vice momentum. Christian Bale does what Christian Bale is best at, as he inhabits Cheney with dialogues as sharp and acerbic as a dozen steak knives. We are used to seeing him transform, twist his body into impossible angles to fit into a role, and once again true to his method, Bale delivers. But Vice also relies on Amy Adams’s Lynne, a brave companion to Bale’s Cheney, to move forward and give more scope to the man.
The film is terrible at balancing comedy and drama, and in fact initiates at times an unwanted feeling of empathy towards Cheney when all it seeks to do is the contrary. We spend so much time hating his guts that these tiny gaps of compassion within are surprising but most of all bewildering. Vice throws its fishing line far in hopes of causing public outrage, which is globally what remains by the end of the film, but it also botches the portrait of this contemporary Devil, making the hook unappealing and hard to swallow.
by Marie-Célia Cannenpasse
Marie-Célia is from a French Caribbean island, and currently studying applied foreign languages at Sorbonne University in Paris, whilst taking filmmaking courses online. She enjoys listening to soundtracks curled up under a comfy duvet on rainy days, gushing about Kate Winslet or Christian Bale on a daily basis, and crying over the BBC’s adaptation of War and Peace. Her favourite films include Gone with the wind, Super 8, Call me by your name and The Prestige. You can find her on Twittter @MCeliaCR and on letterboxd too @MCeliaCR.