'Vice' is a glimpse at life on the dark side of politics
"Vice" is director Adam McKay's second major drama and it hits many of the same thematic notes as his first. Like 2015's "The Big Short," it sheds a light on the actions of a greedy few at the expense of a disenfranchised many.
Former Vice President Dick Cheney's legacy is — McKay posits — corruption, death and destruction. The overarching message of the film isn't always clear and it often lacks narrative fluidity, but "Vice" accurately portrays one of America's most ruthless and important politicians.
Christian Bale's performance is outstanding. His appearance, voice and mannerisms are near identical to Cheney — a testament to Bale's ability to immerse himself in a role. Lynne Cheney (Amy Adams) is a beacon of optimism and a reassuring presence until she is sucked into the vortex that was her husband's Washington, D.C.
Adams' character shines early in the film when she is a central figure in Cheney turning his life around. As his political career advances and he continues to feed his insatiable hunger for power, she becomes a background character. That is disappointing, but unsurprising.
Steve Carell lends his comedic chops as Donald Rumsfeld — the foul-mouthed former congressman and secretary of state whose influence on Cheney starts when the future vice president is just a congressional intern. Cheney learns how to pull the levers of power as Rumsfeld's steward and the pair carves out its ever-growing slice of the West Wing during multiple presidencies.
It is only after Cheney becomes vice president that the audience is meant to feel the consequences of his actions. His pseudo-corruption becomes good old-fashioned corruption and his crusade to invade Iraq results in the deaths of nearly a quarter of a million people, all while he wades through the Wyoming waters and gently flicks his fishing line back and forth.
Can a vicious, nakedly corrupt warmonger be redeemable? The anti-hero is a trope that draws plenty of fanfare (Walter White in "Breaking Bad" comes to mind), but what happens when the anti-hero is a real person who ruined and ended real lives?
Cheney left office with a 13 percent approval rating and most Americans agree that the Iraq War was a mistake. They know the statistics, criticize current and former politicians for their support of the conflict and see it as one of the greatest foreign policy blunders in history. "Vice" isn't trying to make you believe the Iraq War was bad, but it is a poignant reminder.
What "Vice" makes clear is that politicians like Cheney are as unique as they are dangerous. The film is a reprieve from the Trump-centric lens through which all political events are examined these days, but it is a stark reminder of the problems inherent in our political system that created a figure like Cheney.
If and when McKay directs a movie about the Trump presidency, it won't be a portrayal of the 45th president's backroom deal making or unmatched cunning.
It will be about the other, more powerful figures lurking in the shadows as Cheney did, building their legacies on the backs of the vulnerable, impressionable masses.
3.5 of 5 stars
STARRING: CHRISTIAN BALE, STEVE CARELL, AMY ADAMS, SAM ROCKWELL, TYLER PERRY AND LILLY RABE