I’m going to be honest, I’d forgotten that today was Tuesday until a few minutes ago. I was happily sorting everything out and trying to organise my shit when I realised. I needed to hurry up and write this damn review. It’s all because my shifts have changed this week so I’m all off. I keep thinking it’s Sunday or something. But it’s not and I have another Best Picture nominee to review. The BAFTAs took place on Sunday and, despite having several nominations, Vice didn’t do too well out of the ceremony. Winning an award for Best Editing, it missed out on the other 5 categories it was up for. Christian Bale looked like a real contender for Best Actor but Rami Malek beat him out. Whether that changes Bale’s chances at the Oscars remains to be seen but, if you ask me, he’s still a pretty strong possibility. Malek was great but will it speak to the Academy? Especially when Bohemian Rhapsody was so disappointing. Who can say? But, all I know is, it’s never a good idea to discount Bale whenever he drastically alters his appearance for a role. I mean the guy even went to the lengths of thickening his neck. If that’s not commitment to a character then I don’t know what is.
Adam McKay used to be the guy who directed Anchorman. The guy who would work with Will Ferrell to create some of the funniest and silliest films ever made. Then, 2015, he became an Oscar contender. His film The Big Short was positively received by everyone… well not me, obviously. I’ve always got to be fucking different after all. Instead, I was kind of irritated by the whole thing. I enjoyed the weird and choppy way that McKay told the story but felt it was too glib with regards to its subject matter. It kind of glossed over the horrible consequences of the financial crash in order to focus on the rich people who benefited from it. It didn’t seem like it was the right approach. I didn’t completely hate it but was glad it didn’t do as well as people hoped.
So I wasn’t exactly sure what I was going to think about Vice but I was interested to see how McKay approached someone like Dick Cheney. Especially during such a politically turbulent and terrible time. Since Donald Trump came into power there has been a certain amount of nostalgia surrounding the governments that came before him. There have been people using phrases like “I even miss George W. Bush’. Something I can kind of understand considering how bad Trump is but, also, something I don’t. I was there. It was shit. And I was 13 when he got into office. And in the UK. If I knew it was bad then imagine what it was like to actually live it.
Vice takes us through most of Dick’s life. From his time as a teenager to him becoming the most powerful Vice President in American history. We see him battle with alcohol, start as a White House intern, worm his way into a position of power, and do whatever it took to become more influential. Though Cheney was a very private man and wasn’t exactly keeping in-depth records of all of his dodgy dealings. There is very little known about the man so much of this film has been created with a very prominent wink to the audience. There are very few moments when we can safely say, that will have happened exactly as it does on-screen so McKay makes sure his style reflects this. There is a lot of absurd and obviously fantastical moments during Vice like the scene in which Dick and his wife talk in Shakespearean verse or the mid-film credits sequence.
It’s all a lot of fun but it does have the unfortunate effect of making the film seem as though it lacks a real grounding in reality. There are times when the story seems flimsy and the message kind of gets confused. It is an ambitious project that is full of facts and interesting ideas. But there comes a certain point where is all starts to come apart at the seams. Although, what I will say about Vice is that it takes more of a standpoint than The Big Short. At least here, we get the vague impression that McKay condemns Cheney for his actions. Though it doesn’t exactly condemn him very strongly. Just like his previous awards tipped film, Vice is a confused mess that doesn’t really know what it is trying to convey to its audience.
And unlike that previous film, this at least boasts another fantastic performance from Christian Bale. Bale really takes on the role of Cheney and, thanks in large part to his physical changes, it is a startling accurate impersonation. Cheney spends much of the film shrouded, very fittingly, in darkness and Bale portrays him as someone you might expect to see in The Godfather rather than the White House. He is aided by a chilling performance from Amy Adams as Cheney’s wife, Lynne, who we quickly learn is as immoral and calculating as her husband. Rounding off the list of nominee is Sam Rockwell in his supporting role as George W. Bush. I’m a big fan of Rockwell but his Dubya felt a bit more SNL than Academy Award.
Adam McKay has made this film with the basic message that Cheney and co. are the people we should hold responsible for the political mess that America now finds itself in. That their loop holes and dirty dealings have made it possible for a man like Trump to get away with the things that he has done. The final part of the film makes this clear. It’s just a shame that it wasn’t as evident throughout. It feels as though McKay was the wrong man to take on the task of showing us Cheney’s dark side. I get that he wanted to take a darkly comic approach but much of humour lands badly, if at all, and it ends up distracting from the important message here. It’s a strange film that, whilst not terrible, really doesn’t feel right. It doesn’t feel like it has any worth. We learn nothing new about Cheney and it doesn’t really promote debate. It just kind of happens.