Don’t be fooled. “Vice” isn’t really about former Vice President Dick Cheney.
Sure, Adam McKay’s film chronicles Cheney’s rise from what it calls a “dirtbag” to the second most powerful man in the world. Christian Bale’s transformation into the title character is a marvel to behold.
That’s not the point.
“Vice” is an all-out assault on conservatives, capturing how Hollywood views roughly half the country. Why else would the film name check Fox News, Rush Limbaugh, Antonin Scalia, Climate Change, solar energy, President Ronald Reagan and many more off-topic targets?
Once the film makes this clear, it veers from an intriguing biopic to plain propaganda.
Young Dick Cheney (Bale) liked boozing it up with his buddies. That didn’t sit well with his sweetheart Lynne (Amy Adams). Clean up your act, or I’m gone, she tells him.
He does as told, a transition given zero insight or details. That’s a pattern with “Vice,” since it has little interest in the title character as an actual human being.
The story then moves to Washington, where the newly sober Cheney starts his improbable ascent. He cozies up to the GOP after hearing a goofy speech by a Republican named Donald Rumsfeld (Steve Carell in Looney Tunes mold).
Yes, Cheney’s lifelong principles originate from one speech.
Later, we hear him ask Rumsfeld what they actually believe in. “That’s very good!” Carell’s character cries, cracking himself up. That’s what you get when a filmmaker either don’t understand or is unwilling to consider opposing views.
From there it’s a slow and bumpy rise for Cheney. He spent time in the Nixon White House en route to his fateful meeting with then-Gov. George W. Bush (Sam Rockwell).
The biographical details aren’t important to McKay, a far-left filmmaker who injects his partisan rancor into his films. He’s never had a vehicle quite like “Vice” to pull that off, though.
So he goes all in.
“Vice” blames the Fairness Doctrine’s demise for the rise of Fox News, Limbaugh and other methods of sharing news in a free society. Naomi Watts appears briefly as a Fox News stereotype, a beautiful blond disseminating sound bites that McKay insists are hurting America.
Remember, in the world of the Left, having alternate views is anathema to the progressive vision. That approach is exhausting in an op-ed. The same holds true for “Vice.”
The film’s first half at least tracks Cheney’s life story, giving audiences something to feast upon. Later, as the Iraq War looms, the propaganda war intensifies. The movie becomes less engaging, and more eager to trot out talking points without a scintilla of context.
Along the way we’re treated to the great Jesse Plemons’ narration. He’s more than just a narrator, though. He applies McKay’s vision, and criticisms, liberally through the film.
“It was the f***ing 1980s, and it was a helluva time to be Dick Cheney,” he says.
Do we even need to remind McKay of the old storytelling saw “Show, Don’t Tell?”
Plemons also appears on screen, an American Everyman with a character arc to call his own. Suffice to say it’s as clunky and cruel as the film’s worst moments.
When a movie uses the subject’s heart condition as both an obvious metaphor and potential punch line you expect little else.
FAST FACT: Dick Cheney failed out of Yale not once but twice. He didn’t give up on higher education, though. He went on to receive both a bachelor’s and master’s degree in political science from the University of Wyoming.
“Vice” takes plenty of comedic chances, and some are worth our admiration. The film’s faux end credits arrive mid-movie, a clever way to show how Cheney’s life could have zagged along the way. Alfred Molina’s cameo as a server offering Team Cheney a number of heinous menu options is clever, too, and executed with precision.
That’s unlike the rest of the film. Both Rockwell and Carell perform as if stuck in an endless “Saturday Night Live” loop, their mannerisms broad and unconvincing. Other comic tics are overt and unthinking.
Meanwhile, Bale brings all of his gifts to Cheney, a flawless transformation. You’ll do a double or triple take in some scenes, so uncanny is the resemblance. It’s not just the look. That voice, crawling out from under Bale’s crooked grin, is as perfectly observed as his every gesture.
If Bale’s Cheney actually tried to understand the man in question the Best Actor Oscar would be his for the taking.
— Hollywood Reporter (@THR) December 10, 2018
The film’s big surprise? It occasionally shows Cheney as a loving father. When his adult daughter Mary (Alison Pill) tells him she’s a lesbian his response is caring and warm. It’s equally clear how much he adores his wife, shown here as quietly obsessed with power.
FAST FACT: Dick Cheney, now 77, has had five heart attacks to date. In 1988 he underwent quadruple bypass surgery.
So much of “Vice” plays out like a Daily Kos rant, the kind that embraces unthinking narrative over reality. Of course Rockwell’s “Dubya” is a dunce, because that Leftist caricature is just too easy to apply.
Naturally, Team Bush took America to war in order to seize and control Iraq’s oil. Nothing of the kind ever happened, but McKay trots out the lie all the same.
Want more? The first time Cheney sits down with Bush to discuss their future partnership Cheney’s inner monologue says, “He wants to impress his father.”
“Vice” leaves no liberal cliché unturned.
Both Rockwell and Carell perform as if stuck in an endless “Saturday Night Live” loop, their mannerisms broad and unconvincing.
It’s all packaged in slick, bite-sized morsels. Taken individually, they’re enough to cajole some viewers to McKay’s side. In a way, he’s the propagandist Michael Moore wishes he could be.
The smaller touches in “Vice” show McKay’s unbridled disdain for his subjects. In separate scenes we watch both Cheney and Bush licking their fingers while eating sticky food — in the presence of others, mind you. Even more insulting? The film freeze frames a moment where chicken meat is dripping down Bush’s face for comedic effect.
Other flourishes are equally childish, like Cheney reeling Bush in, literally, like a fish.
Much is made of “Unitary Executive Theory,” which essentially says is the president does anything it must be legal because he’s the president.
Cue a smiling Cheney, while the narrator warns, “this was the power of kings, pharaohs and dictatorships.” We then see an image of Galactus, the “devourer of planets” from the Marvel Comics universe.
And you can’t make a far-left political screed without the Koch brothers. “Vice” name checks the right-leaning donors, using an ominous camera angle (shot from the ground!) to capture their wicked ways. Why, it’s like no liberal billionaire donors exist in “Vice” world.
The evil Kochs “started writing fat checks to right-wing think tanks,” we’re told, another crime against humanity in McKay’s world.
What’s amazing about “Vice” is how its innate condescension backfires. The beginning mocks audiences for not being more invested in political matters. We see scenes of beautiful young people dancing, not a care in the world. Meanwhile, the actual world burns around them.
If only they were as smart, as involved, as Team McKay, America would be a better place. Then we watch a two-plus hour movie with all the depth of a lukewarm Twitter take.
Only a visionary like McKay could blame Cheney for school shootings, global warming and everything else that’s awful in the world today.
Someday, audiences will be smart enough, and worthy enough, of McKay’s vision.
HiT or Miss: Yes, “Vice” is the hit piece on former Vice President Dick Cheney we expected. It’s also a condemnation on any who doesn’t toe the progressive line.