Vice, written and directed by Adam McKay, plays straight to the cable-news generation of political enthusiasts. It’s depthless, has the attention span of a gopher, and is more concerned with appearances than getting to the root of anything. This is especially ironic, since the movie goes out of its way to shoehorn in Roger Ailes, the brain behind Fox News, and use that opportunity to remind us that TV news has become a depthless, appearance-driven institution with the attention span of a gopher.
Of course, different rules apply to movies. A movie has no obligation to be fair and balanced—or even truthful. Its only responsibility is to be interesting, entertaining, or engaging in some way that neither of those words encompasses. If you want a thorough education into history or politics, you’ll have better luck at the library than the multiplex, though even the library has fallen victim to entertainment’s scourge on education. Bill O’Reilly is a historian now? That’s like if Ryan Seacrest wrote a book on Mozart.
“…Bale is attempting to ground and humanize Cheney—which shouldn’t be that hard, considering that he’s human and all…”
Back to Vice. The clumsy aside with Ailes is the movie in a nutshell. Whether you approach Cheney as a “glad he’s on our side” type, a Tony Soprano type, or a Richard III type—he’s been introduced at speaking events with The Imperial March, after all—there’s a lot of meat on that bone. McKay—perhaps as a result of his comedic, joke-a-minute tendencies—seems less interested in Cheney and more interested in providing a Now That’s What I Call American Politics! of the last fifty years. At times, McKay’s approach reminded me of Chris Farley’s character from the SNL sketches where he bashfully interviews celebrities. “Hey, remember when you shot that guy in the face and he apologized to you?” “Yeah.” McKay realizes he has nothing to add. “That was crazy.”
Even though the movie plays less like political poker and more like a game of 52-card pickup, some of those disparate cards are meritorious in their own right. Much has been made of Bale’s physical transformation, but, thankfully, he doesn’t rely on that or the great makeup work. Nor does he fall into the trap of imitation—anybody with a working face can mimic mannerisms and speech patterns. It’s clear the entire time that Bale is attempting to ground and humanize Cheney—which shouldn’t be that hard, considering that he’s human and all—but the movie is always pushing back on him. When Bale finally gives his “I was the bad guy so you didn’t have to be” speech, it doesn’t resonate with his characterization up to that point. Any resonance it has is entirely derived from the viewer’s knowledge of the real Cheney, not the film’s Cheney.
“…has energy and attitude, but it doesn’t have respect for its characters…”
Lest things seem too dour, there are a few memorable gags in the mix. While I wouldn’t dare to spoil it, one of the better ones is reminiscent of the Orson Welles line, “If you want a happy ending, that depends, of course, on where you stop your story.”
I wasn’t a fan of McKay’s The Big Short when it came out, partly because it struck me as imitation meat. I could hear some bigshot at a studio say, “The Wolf of Wall Street made serious money! Get me one of those!” Vice brought back that feeling. It has energy and attitude, but it doesn’t have respect for its characters, which is something Scorsese always has, even with the likes of Travis Bickle and Jordan Belfort. Love him or hate him, the Cheney character deserves that same respect.
Vice (2018) Written and directed by Adam McKay. Starring Christian Bale, Amy Adams, Steve Carell, Sam Rockwell, Alison Pill, Eddie Marsan, Justin Kirk, Lisagay Hamilton, Jesse Plemons, Bill Camp, Don McManus, Lily Rabe, Shea Whigham, Stephen Adly Guirgis, Tyler Perry.
5 out of 10 stars