America’s current political climate is fuelled by tension, anger and division. This has led to a stream of films and television programmes aiming to depict the action in both comical and critical ways; but what led the USA to arrive in the divisive state it exists in now? Vice takes a look back into the not-so-distant past to try and answer this question and uncover the secrets of one of America’s most infamous politicians, Dick Cheney.
Vice follows the life & rise of Dick Cheney (Christian Bale), former Vice President under George W. Bush (Sam Rockwell), from young adulthood to the modern day. The film explores both his troubling personal life, and his heartless strives for complete political power. The film sees writer-director Adam Mckay reunited with Christian Bale following the success of The Big Short, continuing on his path of tongue-in-cheek style political satires. The strong self-awareness this film holds is highly effective and keeps the film entertaining. A line of text before the film begins reads “This is a true story. As true as it can be considering how secretive Dick Cheney was about his life. We tried our f***ing best.” This brilliantly sets the tone of the film for the viewer and thoughtfully understands that in a climate filled with ‘true story’ films, they must be taken with a grain of salt.
The signature directing style of Mckay paired with Greig Fraser’s cinematography furthered the biographical aesthetic through the use of lots of close-up and handheld shots. This combined with a fourth-wall breaking narration and plenty of archive footage really gave the illusion that I was watching a documentary at some points, emphasising the chaotic and fast-paced world of US politics. This effect is also owed to the incredible performance from Bale, who went through yet another insane transformation to become unrecognisable as Cheney. The imitation, when compared to Cheney himself, is uncanny and with the support from Amy Adams, Sam Rockwell and Steve Carrell, the acting was flawless across the board.
One of the main issues with the film, however, is its inability at times to stay engaging and steady going. A large portion of the film is spent focusing on Cheney’s family life and health, with some scenes feeling repetitive and unnecessary. This is made clearer when the struggles and hardships experienced by Cheney early on seem to have little interconnectedness with the second half of the film, which is focused mostly on his siege of power and how he acted with it. The contrast between his personal and political life is confused, and there is never a clear arc depicting how Cheney came to a position enforcing mass evil and violence. This may be because of the lack of information known about parts of his life, as the film acknowledges to begin with, but in this way, it seems somewhat foolish of Mckay to try to tackle Cheney’s whole life when such big portions of information are missing. As well as this there are also moments where to film asks for sympathy from the viewer towards Cheney which, considering he’s one of the most infamous and notorious American politicians in history, is hard to understand quite why any lenience is delivered to him.
Overall, Vice impressively tells the shocking tale of the evil-doings of Dick Cheney and the continued effects his acts have had on the world, but at times fails to miss the mark in displaying him in the true ruthless and heartless manner that he waged wars with.
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