Adam McKay has had quite the career; from his early days with Will Ferrell and co. in Anchorman to the Oscar-winning political biopic The Big Short, McKay’s flare for both comedy and drama sets the standards high for his latest film, Vice.
Christian Bale stars as the alarmingly ruthless bureaucratic Washington insider, Dick Cheney. His unassuming personality may otherwise never warrant a second glance, but behind the scenes Cheney schemes his way up the political ladder to wield enormous power, eventually as Vice-President to George W. Bush’s administration, becoming what most assert to be the most influential ‘vice’ the world has ever seen. Yet, while this film never fails to provoke, the tone often makes it a rather tedious watch.
Vice opens by stating that the quietest person in the room is often the smartest. McKay then continues to scream at the audience how intelligent this film is, and it just doesn’t work. His directing style here, though successful in creating an incredibly unnerving atmosphere, doesn’t fit securely with the overarching narrative. The consistent sub-story fourth wall breaking seems rather engaging at the start, but proceeds to only distract from the main plot, confusing the tone throughout the whole film until a last-minute twist ties it all together rather unsatisfyingly. The awkward style makes it extremely difficult for McKay to make an actual point besides the blatant emotional force against the actions of this ignominious administration, which is a true let-down for the stellar cast of this feature.
Once again, Christian Bale provides a brilliant all-out performance as the film’s lead. Convincingly characterising the cold bureaucrat, Bale is chillingly good in this position amongst some of Washington’s most despicable schemers. McKay invests a lot of time trying to get close to Cheney, and Bale makes this, for the most part, possible.
However, Vice attempts to make Cheney a much more complicated character than necessary in order to stretch its appeal to the masses. Bale attacks this head-on though, and makes up for over-dramatization with a persuasive display, making the character believable and at times, dare it be said, compelling.
He is supported by superb performances by the ever-consistent Amy Adams, another hit outing from Steve Carrell, and a disturbingly concise portrayal of George W. Bush by Sam Rockwell. Regardless of the aforementioned issues with the tone, it is true that Vice always feels committed to telling this story with integrity.
And it is indeed a very interesting story. Though it may be hard to connect with at times as a result of the film’s clunky vibe, it can be very witty in its approach. Sharp with its humour yet bleak in its message, the collision between these two means it’s never unclear what the film is trying to achieve; its unsettling, it’s disturbing, much like the atmosphere of the time in the country’s history.
Yet, overall, Vice is as disturbing as it is confusing. McKay provides another provoking political biopic but fails to accomplish the benchmarks of filmmaking he has demonstrated he is capable of in the past.
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