“Vice” will instantly draw comparison to the 2015 film “The Big Short,” also a project written and directed by Adam McKay and a successful one at that. “Vice” as a concept has a difficult challenge. The movie bills itself as a drama and a comedy at the same time, difficult ideas to harmonize. To mix things up more it also claims itself as a biography. The ad headline calls the film The Untold Story that Changed the Course of History. Maybe it is more of a spoof of the Bush presidency and they should just say that. To his credit writer/director McKay in his comments (as opposed to the publicity handouts) says the film is not true in the sense that a biography or a documentary tells the truth but rather is “based on true events.” Others might say that the film has as much truth as the other skits that McKay has written for “Saturday Night Live.” Humor and punch prevails over truth. But the most outrageous things, not true things at all, are presented to the public as if they were true. In one segment the over voice comes on to say that there’s no way they can know what happened in a particularly instance, and then they go on to simply invent whatever comes to mind. Complete falsehoods are presented as fact and innuendo is used to make people look bad. Whole professional categories are presented without evidence as criminal enterprises.
One example will suffice. Don Rumsfeld is detected as a man who seeks power assiduously not for his own sake, not for the corrupt sake of his friends, not to improve the weal of the nation but because he finds it entertaining to do so. In short, this is less an entertainment vehicle than a $60 million slime fest.
Impeccably acted however.
I think we can enjoy the spectacular performance of Christian Bale in the title role and let it go at that. Bale brings his remarkable talent, all of it, to this role. He has an Oscar for “The Fighter,” for which he dropped a great deal of weight. To play the mature and portly Dick Cheney he put on a great deal of weight. His commitment to his craft is commendable, remarkable and successful. He received Oscar noms for “American Hustle” and another Adam McKay project, the antecedently mentioned “The Big Short.”
Amy Adams (five Oscar noms and a real pleasure to watch at work) plays Lynn Cheney, Steve Carell (one Oscar nom) goes against his usual comic roles to play the unfunny Don Rumsfeld with panache and charm. Sam Rockwell (Oscar for “Three Billboards”) plays George W. Bush as a numskull (the actual Bush out grade pointed Al Gore at Yale). Tyler Perry plays the also very serious Colin Powell.
McKay has directed such light weight films as “Anchorman 2” but also got an Oscar for writing “The Big Short” and a nomination for directing the same film. His comic chops show as a writer of “Ant Man,” lots of SNL work and the short film “Pimps Don’t Cry.”
R rated for language the over long two hour and 12 minute film cost the producers a substantial $60 million. It has brought in a lackluster $23 million thus far at the box office.
Should we just skip this not a comedy, not exactly a drama nor a biography? No, the truly remarkable performances, especially by Bale but well supported by other Oscar winners and nominees makes this one valuable for movie fans. Two saw blades but only for the acting.