Wednesday, November 25, 2020

Adam McKay’s ‘Vice’ polarizes critics

As someone who was born in 2000, I knew next to nothing about politics at that time and especially knew nothing about Dick Cheney.

“Vice” tells the story of how Dick Cheney went from two DWI’s in Wyoming, to an extensive career in government from the youngest White House Chief of Staff, all the way to Vice President under former President George W. Bush. 

His ascent to power transformed democracy, and yet most people know little about him. He is an incredibly secretive person, and an opening title card from the director admits they did their “f—king best”. Writer and director Adam McKay heavily researched Cheney and used any biographical material out there.

This could have easily turned into any other boring biopic, but McKay is able to set his movie apart from any other straightforward narrative. Similar to his direction and writing on “The Big Short,” there are abrupt fourth wall breaks during intricate discussions to explain things like the Unitary Executive Theory or the War Powers Act to the audience.

While these interruptions are helpful, they start to fray the focus of the story, creating clutter and confusion. There is a comedic and completely fabricated moment where Cheney and his wife, Lynne, played with real strength by Amy Adams, have a conversation that sounds lifted from William Shakespeare. 

It is played for laughs and is supposed to be overly dramatic but goes on for too long and never really serves a specific purpose. 

 The standout moment for myself is the introduction of Cheney’s mentor, Donald Rumsfeld, played by Steve Carell. The funky score is filled with horns from the 1970s, and the fast-paced editing juxtaposes this congressman with the delicate and dangerous butterfly knife. 

While Sam Rockwell has been nominated for Best Supporting Actor at this year’s Oscars for his role as former president George W. Bush, I think Steve Carell gave the superior supportive performance. 

Rumsfeld is in the film longer than Bush, giving Carell more time to develop the character, which makes the performance feel more real; it feels like Rockwell is just doing an impersonation.
The outstanding performance here is Christian Bale in the role of Cheney. Bale gained 45 pounds, shaved his head and bleached his eyebrows. It really pays off, and it is impossible to tell that this is the same actor that played Batman in “The Dark Knight.” 

What is even more impressive was how human Cheney still felt. You see a more loving side to Cheney when he is with his incredibly strong wife and their family. 

It feels like the filmmakers want to resist the urge to demonize Cheney and portray him in a fair light.
At the end of the day, “Vice” seems to split critics as seen by its 66 percent approval rating on Rotten Tomatoes. McKay makes a lot of specific choices with how he tells the story, though not all of them pay off. I would recommend “Vice” to everyone, whether or not they know anything about Dick Cheney.

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