Vice is a wickedly funny, brilliantly satirical black comedy about the rise to power of Dick Cheney. Considered the most powerful vice president in United States history, Vice pulls no punches in its portrayal of his authoritarian nature. Writer/director Adam McKay skewers Cheney and the political machine that fueled the neoconservative agenda. He places an almost equal focus on Cheney's wife, Lynne. They were a formidable couple that bent the Republican party, the country, and eventually the world to their will. Adam McKay is crystal clear about his agenda and feelings toward Cheney. The genius of Vice is how he responds to the criticism of his approach.
An absolutely stellar cast brings Vice to life. Christian Bale stars as Dick Cheney. The film opens in the early 1960's with Cheney as a hard-drinking, apathetic ruffian; who's just flunked out of Yale. Back in Wyoming, Cheney's rabble rousing and run-ins with the law leads to an ultimatum from his high school sweetheart, Lynne (Amy Adams). Stop the foolishness, get sober, and make something of yourself. Lynne, a clever girl with ambition, understood her dreams were shackled by being a woman in a man's world. She had seen enough abuse from her father. Dick gets the message and steers his interest towards politics, with firm guidance from Lynne.
Cheney begins a congressional internship after graduating from the University of Wyoming. He's particularly enamored by a sharp-tongued, cocky representative from Illinois, Donald Rumsfeld (Steve Carell). Soon a devoted member of Rumsfeld's staff, Dick Cheney begins to climb the political ladder with astonishing speed. A fierce ideological conservative, he saw the liberal opposition to President Nixon's authority as near treasonous. Cheney believed in the Unitary Executive Theory, the idea that the authority of the executive branch belongs solely to the president.
Cheney's meteoric ascension takes him to congress, the white house in multiple roles over two decades, and eventually the Vice Presidency of the United States. He's sought out, then slickly convinces President George W. Bush (Sam Rockwell) to grant him enormous power over policy and governance. These actions would prove fateful on the morning of September 11th, 2001. Dick Cheney played the pivotal role in the Bush administration's response to the horrendous terrorist attack. The fight against Al-Qaeda in Afghanistan is used as justification for the invasion of Iraq. The bloody outcome and staggering human loss dictates world events to this day.
It's a bizarre feeling to laugh hysterically in a film that depicts such tragic events. Vice has an interesting narrative structure. It's nonlinear, leaping back and forth in time to give background on important moments in Dick Cheney's life. Vice is narrated by a secret character (Jesse Plemons), who breaks the fourth wall and addresses the audience directly. There's also a focus group, embedded in the story, that is used by Adam McKay (Anchorman: The Legend of Ron Burgundy, The Big Short) to react to various plot elements. Vice is truly unique, unlike any film I have ever seen.
Adam McKay has a clear disdain for the Cheneys, their machinations, acolytes, and the results of their influence. But he's not above introspection regarding the film's motives. McKay elucidates the other side's viewpoints, and pointedly rebukes any criticism of Vice being a liberal Hollywood hit piece. The people and events portrayed in Vice have been written about and filmed exhaustively. Dick Cheney rarely does interviews, and obviously didn't have anything to do with this film. But he has decades in the public arena that leave little doubt to his beliefs. Much like his film about the Housing crisis, The Big Short, McKay marks boundaries between facts and conjecture with incisive humor.
Christian Bale needs to clear space on the shelf for another Oscar. His transformation into Dick Cheney is tour de force acting. Bale's immense weight gain, along with the incredible make-up and prosthetics, make him a startling doppelganger. His performance in Vice is next level, astounding on every front. The supporting cast, Amy Adams, Steve Carell, and Sam Rockwell are also damn good. Adam McKay enlists an amazing ensemble to tell Dick Cheney's story. The artistry involved in Vice should be appreciated across the political spectrum. It is exceptionally well-made and acted. There are additional scenes in the credits. Vice is a production of Plan B Entertainment and distributed by Annapurna Pictures.