Shakespearean terminology is used in this particular movie at one time, thus I believe it is acceptable. This is Vice Reviews.
William Shakespeare is a writer who I’m fairly sure I’ve never quoted in a movie review, but since this particular film uses Shakespearean language at one point, I believe it’s acceptable. Adam McKay’s “Vice” has the following line from the poet stuck in my head: “Full of sound and fury, meaning nothing.”
In “Vice,” a lot happens. There’s a lot of noise, as well as a lot of rages. And there’s a fascinating story to be told about the George W. Bush administration and Vice President Dick Cheney’s role in shaping our country’s current state. But this isn’t the film for you.
The film lacks insight, inventiveness, and intensity, skimming the surface of history like a drunk guy at a holiday party who read a Wikipedia entry about which he really wants to talk to you right now. “Vice” offers nothing new to think about for anyone remotely involved in the national political landscape over the last two decades.
Great films about American politics spark debate; mediocre ones are one-sided, dull lectures. This is the latter, and it is not at a good college.
McKay tackles Cheney’s life using many of the same techniques he used on “The Big Short”—straight-to-camera explanations, quick-cut montages to jump through history (a heavily made-up Christian Bale). One of the major issues with that last sentence is that Cheney has a lot of ground to cover in his life.
Instead of focusing solely on the meat of the story—the tenure of Cheney as President—McKay provides a sluggish first half-hour that plays out like a surprisingly rote biopic. We know we’re here for the Bush years, so Cheney’s drunken youth and years with Nixon have an unintended air of foreshadowing.
The desire to investigate how Cheney influenced politics in the years before Dubya asked him to be his running mate is notable, but McKay’s approach is far more formulaic than the man’s history demands. What he learned from Nixon and Donald Rumsfeld, particularly during his time at Halliburton, is all surface-level, connect-the-dots filmmaking.
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The story of one of history’s most notable opportunists then moves on to the “good stuff” in the Bush administration (and, to be fair, improves as a piece of filmmaking). McKay depicts a man who realized he could transform a largely useless government position into one of great power.
Whatever you think of Cheney’s politics or moral center, he knew how to seize opportunities when they arose, and he realized that he could refashion the office of Vice President under George W. Bush and finally leave his mark on American political history. All of the factual beats are present. The “why,” or “why should we care,” is missing.
A glib, mocking tone that doesn’t fit the material is part of the problem. In one scene, Bale and Adams, who plays his wife Lynne, interrupt their own conversation to comment on how Shakespearean everything is, then transition into actual Shakespearean verse.
I’ve always scoffed at movie characters who say things like “This only happens in movies,” but this is a new level of that same self-awareness. Don’t even get me started on “Vice’s” narrative framing, which is provided by a mysterious character played by Jesse Plemons, whose ultimate connection to Cheney left me wondering what McKay was saying by having him narrate this story.
What is the solution? I don’t believe he is aware. That is the most serious issue. McKay frequently confuses cleverly hitting the beats of a true story with historical commentary. It isn’t. Making a joke is not the same as writing drama.
Presenting a historical event in a way that other filmmakers may not have considered is only important if the presentation has meaning. Being unique is not the same as being intelligent.
Christian Bale’s performance has gotten a lot of attention, but I found it to be more impressive than insight, and Amy Adams is wasting her talent on a role she can do in her sleep. Sam Rockwell and Steve Carell fare much better, frequently stealing their own scenes.
Rockwell refuses to play Bush as the goofy idiot we’ve seen before, making for a much more interesting character, and Carell doesn’t fall victim to impression at all, sketching a bitter vision of Rumsfeld that may be the film’s most profound historical commentary.
Cheney is a political titan in the United States. After 9/11, he helped shape the entire world and our role in it. How and why he did this could make for great American drama. Perhaps we’re just too close to it now to see the whole picture—we’re still riding in the wake of decisions made by Cheney while he was in the White House, and historical biopics made while history is being written frequently falter.
All I know is that Cheney deserved an acidic, intelligent film as memorable as his political career. My politics may not be the same as his, but even I can see that his legacy does not deserve something as meaningless as “Vice.”