Vice (2018) R
We first see the following statement on the screen: ‘The following is a true story. Or as true as it can be given that Dick Cheney is one of the most secretive leaders in history. But we did our best.’
We see a bunch of men gambling on a table and drinking, as one of the men keeps hollering. It appears to be in the 1950s. Next, we are on the road, the car weaving in and out of its lane. The car is not only swerving from side to side, but it’s also speeding. We cut to the car has now been pulled over by a highway patrolman, and we see the patrolman approaching the vehicle. He shines his light into the front seat of the car and taps on the window. The driver, Dick Cheney (Christian Bale) waves at the officer and rolls down the window. A radio is playing, and Cheney is signing along with the radio. The officer asks Dick to exit the car, and Dick takes one more drag on his cigarette and then drunkenly stumbles out of the car, going to his knees as the officer grabs Dick before he can fall to the floor as the scene fades to black.
We hear an alarm going off in the White House. Secret Service officers are telling Cheney to move. As the men race Cheney out of the room, the camera pans to show a TV airing the terrorist attack on the Twin Towers on 9/11. The men push Cheney into a secure room as one of the security detail get word that a plane has just hit the Pentagon. Vice President Cheney from the ‘Presidential Emergency Operations Center’ begins barking orders to the people in the room. As Cheney looks around the room, a bunch of worried staff talk about how many planes are still in the air and how one plane has just crashed in the fields of Pennsylvania. We see National Security Advisor Condoleezza Rice (LisaGay Hamilton) on the phone trying to gather information about the attacks. She informs the Vice President that she has the President on line one. He tells the President that the situation is ‘very fluid’ and suggests that he stay in the air aboard Air Force One. He informs the President that he has sequestered top congressmen and Cheney will talk with the President when he knows more. The Vice President hangs up and then talks to Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld over the phone. Rumsfeld asks the Vice President for ‘Rules of Engagement’ to deal with the passenger planes still in the air. Condoleezza Rice suggests getting the President back on the line, and he tells her no. The Vice President tells Rumsfeld that he has the authorization to shoot down any aircraft ‘deemed a threat.’ Rumsfeld asks if this is under ‘Presidential authority’ and the Vice President confirms that it is. A narrator starts talking about what went on in that room that day. While everyone else in the room was feeling fear, confusion, uncertainty, the narrator tells us that Dick Cheney sees something that no one else saw in that room, ‘opportunity.’
This is the start of Vice the remarkable life of Dick Cheney, who went from drunk and working for very little pay to the most powerful man in the world. The problem is what was stated at the beginning of the film, that Cheney is a very secretive man, heck, he and his wife stayed in an undisclosed bunker for six months after 9/11. The problem with a man like Cheney is that you never really know what they are thinking, they hold everything very close to his vest, making it hard for the filmmaker,
writer/director Adam McKay, to know exactly what his main character’s motives are, other than to get as much power as he can. So McKay has to make things up and much like his Oscar-winning 2016 film The Big Short, he uses comedy to fill in the gaps. Sometimes it works, as with a running gag that involves Cheney and his health that is fall on the floor funny, but at other times instead of funny, the attempt becomes just strange, making a peculiar film even more offbeat.
The core of this film is the performance of Christian Bale, whose appearance is a chameleon-like transformation. There were times watching this film that I forgot this was the same actor that fills the role of Batman in the ‘Dark Knight’ trilogy. Bale, using unbelievably effective prosthetics and either one of the greats fat suits ever used, or Bale gained all that weight for the role, it’s hard to believe that he isn’t Dick Cheney in real life. Other actors undergo similar transformations, including Tyler Perry (yes, that Tyler Perry) as Colin Powell, Sam Rockwell as President George W. Bush and Steve Carell as Donald Rumsfeld. At the very least, this film will be a Hair and Makeup Oscar nomination, if not a win.
It is not just the hair and make-up that make Bale’s performance so exceptional, it’s the actor himself, who probably had to go deep inside himself to try to figure out the complex man that he played in the role. I did find Sam Rockwell’s performance of President Bush a little too cartoony. I mean it seemed, at least on the surface, that Bush was a pretty simple man, but Rockwell goes way over the top in making the President almost buffoon-like. Amy Adams isn’t given a whole lot to work with as Dick’s wife Lynne Cheney, though I did enjoy a scene where she has taken over Dick’s speeches when he suffers a health crisis. Besides Bale, the other performance that stands out is Steve Carell as the power fueled Donal Rumsfeld, who feels he is better than anyone in the room. Carell gives a masterful performance of a man who thought he would go further than he actually did.
At one point, I started to feel that the film drag, as McKay tries to give us the whole life of Cheney instead of solely concentrating on the White House years. McKay spends a lot of time showing us the early years, where a newly married Cheney was drinking too much, spending what little money he made in throw away jobs while getting into fights and arrested for drunk driving. I did find it interesting that Cheney became an assistant of Rumsfeld at the old age of 35 (most of his fellow assistants were in their twenties). It shows the drive and conviction that Cheney had to succeed after given the riot act by his wife to clean up his life or she would leave.
Even though I have some problems with the Vice, it is worth seeing for the performances by Bale and Carell. You may be horrified by the Bush administrations policies at the time and how much power that Cheney had, but you will be amazed by the performances in the film My Rating: Full Price
Mike’s Movie Rating System from Best to Worst:
1). I Would Pay to See it Again
2). Full Price
3). Bargain Matinee
5). You Would Have to Pay Me to See it Again
The film opens nationwide on Christmas Day