Coming off notable successes such as The Big Short, writer and director Adam McKay chose to take a three-year break in order to develop Vice, an ambitious and scrawling commentary on the most impactful vice president of all time. Featuring Christian Bale in the lead role as Dick Cheney, the film follows the character’s journey from a low, drunken Yale dropout to a vicious and ruthless leader, serving somewhat as a co-president of the United States. Already the film has garnered acclaim, namely from the Hollywood Foreign Press Association who nominated the film for a staggering six Golden Globes. And while Vice does feature an outstanding performance from Bale in what can be classified as possibly the year’s best role, McKay is often far too ambitious. Choosing to follow Cheney over such an extended period causes the storytelling to feel chunky and one-sided. And with the production being overbearing towards its middling conclusion, Vice turns from an insightful commentary to an average, disproportionate ride, only saved by the spearheaded effort of the acclaimed performances from Bale and Adams.
Told in the same stylized fashion as The Big Short, writer Adam McKay insists on implementing that formula to Cheney’s story. Towards the middle, the faulty seams begin to show as Cheney clearly isn’t meant for this stylized fashion. While Bale seems to be in a sprawling drama, McKay insists on placing it into a comedic commentary setting. It’s a disproportionate ratio that is confusingly present as McKay was both the writer and the director, able to be classified as an amateur mistake.
In regards to the storytelling, the film attempts to cover the entire career of Dick Cheney from his shallow work as a power operator to a mild intern to Steve Carell’s Donald Rumsfeld to his seemingly bland title as vice president, preceded by George W. Bush. Any filmmaker would see this span of events as a genuine issue. Crushed within a runtime of 132 minutes, McKay simply tries to cover too much, resulting his perspective becoming one-sided. From discussing themes of parenthood to the Iraq War, the spectrum is far too wide, emphasizing the importance of temperament. And with every sequence devolving into a predictable and repetitive fashion, it quickly wears on the viewer.
But what keeps this unsteady ship afloat is a fantastic roster of performances. It’s one of the most impressive ensembles of the entire year, with Christian Bale as Dick Cheney and Amy Adams as Lynne Cheney in the primary spotlight.
Bale has an impressive transformation into the role, reportedly gaining an estimated 40 pounds just to play the character with the deserving justice. In addition, when he appears on screen, it’s almost unrecognizable that it is Bale, making his performance all the more captivating. His maliciously calm tone reverberates out, adding subtly detailed sequences and emotions for keen viewers to devour. It’s quite simply one of the best performances of the entire year and cements Bale as one of the best actors of his generation.
As for Academy Award-nominated actress Amy Adams, she plays the character of Lynne Chenney, Dick’s wife. She injects a much-needed flair, delivering her dialogue with charisma and heart. Deservedly she is a contender for the best supporting actress award this year, and with her steady line of five nominations from the Academy, I wouldn’t be surprised if she were to take it home this year.
Ultimately, Vice is a decisive and experimental approach for writer and director Adam McKay. Can his stylistic and ludicrous approach of storytelling work with any story or character? The simple answer is unfortunately no. But while McKay’s creative decisions are left burning, Bale and an impressive ensemble step forward to commandeer the ship afloat. It’s far from perfect and may not be particularly memorable, but it has the resolve and potential of so much better.
Score: 7.1 out of 10
From Annapurna Pictures and Academy Award winning writer/director Adam McKay (THE BIG SHORT) comes the audacious and subversively comedic VICE, an unconventional behind- the-scenes look at former Vice President Dick Cheney’s stealthy rise from Congressional intern to the most powerful man on the planet. Fully inhabiting the role of the highly secretive title character who changed the world in ways few leaders have over the past fifty years is Oscar winner Christian Bale heading an all-star cast that includes Oscar nominee Steve Carell as the affable, yet steely Donald Rumsfeld, Oscar nominee Amy Adams as Cheney’s ambition-driven wife and Oscar winner Sam Rockwell as the malleable George W. Bush.
VICE is playing in theaters now.