Vice begins with a young Dick Cheney in Wyoming getting pulled over for drunk driving. His girlfriend Lynne bails him out of jail and lays down the law: either change your careless ways or I’ve chosen the wrong man. Vice, the new movie from director Adam McKay, starts with this flashback because it believes the character you are in your youth will inspire the adult you become. It then spends the next 130 minutes proving it.
Dick Cheney served in the United States government for many years before accepting the job as George W. Bush’s vice-president in 2001, where he exploited constitutional loopholes to legally grant himself unlimited power. He advocated for the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. He sanctioned extreme torture methods. He essentially wiped his shoes with the Geneva Convention. Why? Was he power-mad? Perhaps. But Vice chooses instead to portray him as a family-oriented man who simply used his humanity as currency to do things his own way.
He wasn’t a very complex person, but Vice, like McKay’s previous film The Big Short (2015), is assembled like a comedy fiction patched with a documentary. Of course it’s too biased to work as a proper documentary. It’s more interested in revealing crippling truths about America’s lofty ideals.
Cheney is played by Christian Bale, who threw on 20 kilos, bleached his eyebrows and is constantly convincing as a patriotic man who honours his wife and two daughters in quiet reserve. An apt parallel, considering the man who now sits in office can’t distinguish a patriot from a nationalist and is anything but reserved.
The movie revolves around Cheney, the way he kissed ass to climb ranks, cheated American law, hypnotised his puppet president and somehow avoided incarceration. Some truths are funny, most are startling, and the film finds a special way of employing unexpected cameos to impart critical information. It uses humour in such an unorthodox manner that many of the people I saw it with didn’t know they were allowed to laugh.
Vice is smart though. Very smart. And it is well-acted, not just by Bale, but by Sam Rockwell as Bush, Jr, Amy Adams as Lynne Cheney, Steve Carell as Donald Rumsfeld and Alison Pill as Dick’s younger daughter Mary, who discovers she’s gay and is shattered to learn that her supportive family will abandon even her in their quest for power.
Indeed, the scariest thing about Vice is the way it wields its subject like a gavel. It tells us howCheney cheated. Considering the megalomaniacs who now run the White House, this could be a damning instruction manual. Let’s all hope it isn’t.
Image courtesy of eOne Films