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The former US vice-president, big oil nabob and waterboarding enthusiast Dick Cheney squats like a latex, inflated toad at the ear of power in this flashy political comedy from Adam McKay. Or perhaps it’s truer to say that it’s at Cheney’s massive ear where notional power squats in the form of former president George W Bush. This is due to a terrifically and in fact rather scarily plausible impersonation from Christian Bale, whose head has been enlarged to the size of a pale-pink bespectacled beach ball atop a shapeless, conservatively suited fleshmound.
Vice is always entertaining and nihilist, especially when it comes to Cheney’s relationship with his beloved daughter Mary Cheney (Alison Pill), an out gay woman and same-sex marriage campaigner. Cheney’s final treatment of her in this movie made me think of Citizen Kane setting fire to his childhood sled and saying he never liked winter-sports equipment named after flowers anyway. This film has had a surge of awards season love. Could it be that there is a surge of liberal nostalgia for a time when Republican bad guys, however horrible, were at least smart and rational people who had the good taste to stay out of the limelight personally, and you sort of knew where you stood with them?
Vice is a kind of PowerPoint biopic, a Ted talk of a comedy, with fourth-wall breaks and voiceover routines borrowed from Michael Moore. But the stylised inserts reminded me a bit more worryingly of his previous film, the bafflingly overrated The Big Short from 2015, a pseudo-satire of the financial world that tried to confer underdog-hero status on those money men who’d done well out of the crash.
McKay’s wacky structural alienation-effects and meta gags are more pertinent here, and the dialogue is far more smoothly managed: there is a nice fantasy scene in which Cheney and his formidable wife Lynne (played by Amy Adams) switch into Shakespearean dialogue, as a comment on the laconic, tongue-tied nature of real life. (If Aaron Sorkin had been writing this, Dick, Lynne and everyone would else would be jabbering away non-stop in smart alec-speak.) There is also a neat twist involving the voiceover narrator.
Basically, it’s a better film than The Big Short because of a big, enjoyable, intelligent central performance in which Bale has the sense to do more with less. His Cheney is often slumped, immobile, round-shouldered, animated only when reaching for a confidential document or sugary pastry. But he’s a quick mover, politically.
Bale shows his man’s simple personal evolution. As a young boozer and Yale dropout from Wyoming, Dick gets an almighty, blazing-eyed telling-off from Lynne, and he resolves to straighten up and fly right. Quitting booze entirely isn’t what happens, but his passions are transferred to food and power, and he graduates to a paunch-plus-combover in his days in the Nixon White House, working for Donald Rumsfeld, who is played by Steve Carell as a grinning, self-congratulatory reactionary – but interestingly far less powerful and important than we thought him at the time.
And then Cheney becomes the great big plutocrat blob that America came to not particularly know or love. He was secretary for defense under the late George HW Bush. Then, during the exile years of the Clinton presidency, he was CEO of energy giant Halliburton, before the naive young Dubya called him back as vice-president – a job he effectively reconfigured as power behind the throne, and in front of it.
Bale’s bland self-possession is very funny, especially when he suffers a heart attack in the middle of a speech as a young, would-be congressman – and he has been so mumbling, sweaty and incoherent that it isn’t obvious he has gone into cardiac arrest until he comes off stage and says he needs an ambulance. Later he will stand, shrug, frown and announce that once again he needs to go to hospital.
And how does it all relate to the New Trump Order? Well, McKay puts in a post-credits sting on this topic, and it is possible that the cynicism and rapaciousness of the Cheney era paved the way to what America has now. The film shows Cheney telling Senator Patrick Leahy to go fuck himself – considered a watershed for vulgarity at the time.
But Cheney was a quiet man. As he says when he brings Rumsfeld back into the Bush Jr White House, it is a quiet place: “We have conservative TV and radio to do our yelling for us.” Now the yelling has been brought back into politics; it is politics. Cheney can hardly be surprised.
Source: The Guardian
Keyword: Vice review – Christian Bale hilarious as toad-like VP Dick Cheney | Film