Adam McKay uses the same techniques that made The Big Short accessible to tell the story of former Vice President Dick Cheney. It’s funny and engaging while being informative, but also upsetting and rightfully so.
With The Big Short, every step of the way it felt like someone could have stepped in and put a stop to it, whether it were bankers on ethical grounds, investors on the grounds of projections or people simply saying no to the banks. Dick Cheney was really good at covering his tracks. By the time it was evident, it was too late.
Writer/director McKay finds new ways to break the fourth wall and be irreverent, but he’s always respectful of the gravity of the historic stakes. We know what happened, more so than we maybe understood the housing crisis, so he’s irreverent about the inevitable choices we know Cheney made.
The film bounces back and forth in time to chart Cheney’s rise in politics with his post 9/11 position of power. As a Congressional Intern he discovered he had a knack for being a political lackey, ultimately becoming Chief of Staff to Ford.
It explains how Cheney sold George W. Bush on leaving him in charge of military, foreign policy, energy and lots of pretty important aspects of governing. It explains how Cheney set up his team and scrubbed the record of any evidence that would hold him accountable.
It explains how they came up with phrases like “death tax” and “climate change” to forward their own agenda. It fits in Cheney shooting Harry Whittington. It’s as jarring as it was when it really happened, but it fits.
Like the confusing banking scams, Vice explains some of the more complex political concepts Cheney was working with like the Unitary Executive Theory, and how repealing the Fairness Doctrine enabled the creation of Fox News which could be used to sell their agenda.
Dick and Lynne just crave power. Nothing else brings them joy or fulfillment. We need to understand this is what we’re dealing with. When the well being of their own daughter doesn’t matter to them, you can’t beat this kind of politician with logic, let alone with emotional decency.
Vice shows Cheney being a cavalier glutton as he chooses targets for torture. You feel the loudness of any cutaway to war footage, because what they did hurts.
Having already set high standards for characterizations, Christian Bale takes it to the next level with Cheney. It’s not just the weight he gained. It’s how he carries it.
He captures that turtle-like posture, making his head stick out cocked awkwardly. He speaks in Cheney’s side mumble to totally convey how unmoved he is by anyone else’s wants or needs.
The ensemble is seamless too. Having been exposed to a lot of George W. Bush and a lot of Sam Rockwell movies, the merging is impeccable. I don’t remember seeing much of Lynne Cheney but Amy Adams goes with the flow of the narrative and the scenes that demand she step out of the story.
Vice is Adam McKay’s JFK, only it’s all true. It’s as compelling a conspiracy unraveling no less devastating to our country, only it doesn’t have to rely on any unsubstantiated theories. All of this happened on the record.
Vice is in theaters Christmas Day.