Arts movie review

Look out Oscars, ‘Vice’ is heading your way

‘Vice’ is a political drama/comedy for both sides of the aisle

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Dick Cheney (Christian Bale) speaks from the podium, standing alongside Lynne Cheney (Amy Adams), George W. Bush (Sam Rockwell), and Laura Bush (Andrea Wright) in a scene from Adam McKay’s film 'Vice.'
Courtesy of Matt Kennedy/ Annapurna Pictures

Directed by Adam McKay
Screenplay by Adam McKay
Starring Christian Bale, Amy Adams, Steve Carell, Sam Rockwell and Jesse Plemons
Rated R, Now Playing

Vice tells the story of Dick Cheney, starting from his earlier life to his entry into politics to becoming the vice president to George W. Bush Jr.  But the role of vice president is a joke, a symbol, and nothing more than a backup. Even I learned in seventh grade that the vice president is a nothing job. They don’t actually do anything. No one memorizes the names of the vice presidents. (Quick: who was Carter’s VP? Did Carter even count as a president?)

But as the news comes in that the younger Bush was to become president, an assistant asks Cheney who will lead the transition team. “I will,” Cheney says immediately. “That’s not something vice presidents typically do,” the assistant replies. Cheney smiles. And thus starts the term of the most powerful vice president in the history of the United States, as Cheney became even the most powerful man in the world.

Watching the trailer for Vice, I thought it certainly looked interesting, but I did not expect much. I tend to get lost in political dramas, and unless there’s someone with me to explain it all, I never get invested enough in the story to try to understand. They also tend to bore me. No explosions, no chase scenes, no romance.

Well, Vice is not only an atypical political drama, but it is also an excellent, excellent movie. Adam McKay, co-writer and director of The Big Short, did a fantastic job. I’m not the only one who thinks so. If you’ve been following the Golden Globes nominations, you’ll notice Vice has been nominated for Best Picture, Best Screenplay, Best Direction, and Best Comedy. That’s right. Best comedy. Vice not only had some explosions, a mini chase scene (sort of), and romance, but it was hilarious. My friend once told me that to consider a movie a good comedy, she needs to laugh out loud at least seven times. Vice definitely hit that bar for me, and I think it would be even more witty for someone who is more familiar with politics.

Even though the writing was my favorite aspect of the film, the acting more than deserves its credit. You may not recognize that it’s Christian Bale playing Dick Cheney, but you can definitely see the talent. Beyond just his physical appearance, Bale completely transforms into a quiet but powerful political insider from the way he speaks to little mannerisms, like his half-smirk. While Bale’s performance was impressive, I was really impressed with his character's wife, played brilliantly by Amy Adams. She managed to show the different, and seemingly contradictory, facets of Lynne Cheney that audience members might not know about, such as her cutthroat ambition and her gentleness with her family, in a way that looked natural.

I think the best part of Vice was the unexpectedness made seamless. Even for those who are familiar with Cheney’s story will be surprised at all the ways McKay presents the twists and turns of Cheney’s life. Humans are notoriously complicated, and while it might be easier to put Cheney into one category or another, Vice shows all his complicated facets. Many people despise Cheney, but Vice humanizes him in some respects, especially when it comes to his family where he acts gentle and lovingly and even sacrifices running for president for his daughter. Others might only see the capital R after his name and ignore all his unsavory actions, and Vice drags all those actions in the full spotlight of the big screen. Coming into this movie, I was worried that there would be an unfair liberal bias. Were some events stretched or facts mangled? Was Cheney really that power hungry and manipulative? Maybe. It is a drama after all, but I don’t pretend to be well-versed enough in the politics of Bush’s presidency or Cheney himself to say for sure. Overall, I think that McKay did an excellent job, and I think there are aspects of the film that people for both sides of the aisle will appreciate.