VICE – Review by Diane Carson

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Vice presents a wild, irreverent ride through Dick Cheney’s life. Writer/director Adam McKay tackles Dick Cheney’s public and private life head on in Vice, a title with provocative insinuations far beyond Cheney’s years 2001 to 2009 as President’s George W. Bush’s Vice President. After introductory, amusing text on screen, the story proper begins in Caspar, Wyoming, in 1963 with a speedy, loud opening scene of Dick stopped for drunk driving.

Subsequent events succinctly capture the essence of Cheney’s rise to power from a Congressional internship up the rungs of influence and power, wielding a take-no-prisoners strategy every step of the way. With its imaginative, irreverent approach, Vice cedes subtlety for a wild ride through this political chronicle of Cheney’s life. While McKay’s point of view is never in doubt, consistently sharp commentary and a rapid pace keep the unfolding drama entertaining and grounded. Throughout the film, public exchanges integrate a fair amount of archival news footage into well-documented exchanges, sometimes familiar from their previous, historical exposure, sometimes new information, all well researched.

McKay embraces a healthy dose of self-mockery, signaling an appealing awareness. In this respect, he confirms his pedigree as writer for Saturday Night Live from 1995-2001, head writer for two of those years. Not that this isn’t important to the nation, it’s just that McKay believes the best way to present such nakedly manipulative, Machiavellian skirmishes is with bemused distance, expertly expressed in McKay’s screenplay.

As Cheney, Christian Bale is all but unrecognizable from his earlier roles. His performance is brilliant with Bale’s uncanny resemblance thanks to picture-perfect make up and considerable weight gain, plus Bale’s superb imitation of Cheney’s facial expressions and body posture. Equally on target are Sam Rockwell as President George W. Bush and Steve Carell as Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld. And as wife Lynne Cheney, Amy Adams all but steals her scenes in her sinister, Lady Macbeth approach to D.C. politics.

Veteran cinematographer Greig Fraser visually differentiates government offices and locations from home scenes, lighting each with a different mood. Similarly, Nicholas Britell’s music communicates volumes about emotional temperaments. Vice holds a funhouse mirror up for us to both laugh and cringe.

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Diane Carson

Diane Carson, Ph.D., Professor Emerita, has reviewed films for over 25 years and has covered the Cannes, Telluride, Toronto, Palm Springs, and Sundance festivals. She writes for KDHX, 88.1 FM. St. Louis’ community radio. One of the founders of the St. Louis International Film Festival, she continues to serve on juries. A past president of the University Film and Video Association, she taught film studies and production at St. Louis Community College and at Webster University. Her new book, written with two colleagues, is “Appetites and Anxieties: Food, Film, and the Politics of Representation,” Wayne State U. Press, 2014.