Idiosyncratic writer/director Adam McKay has crafted a devastating portrait of Dick Chaney, opening with TV footage of the then-Vice President’s autocratic assumption of White House power as Manhattan’s Twin Towers burned on 9/11.
What’s most remarkable is how a 40-lb. weight gain and make-up/prosthetics transform shape-shifting Christian Bale into venomous Chaney, enabling him to deliver an immersive, powerhouse performance.
Propelled by his shrewd wife Lynne (Amy Adams), the narrative traces Chaney’s bureaucratic rise during the Nixon administration from scheming aide to conservative Republican Congressman Donald Rumsfeld (Steve Carell) to most trusted confidante of George W. Bush (Sam Rockwell).
Plus there’s Cheney’s unshakable love and support for his openly lesbian daughter Mary (Alison Pill), a same-sex marriage advocate.
Note the memorable end-credits scene of a (fictional) focus group, epitomizing the widening American cultural divide that took root during the tenure of this sneering, shadowy man with an uncanny ability, as the narrator (Jesse Plemons) notes, “to make wild and extreme ideas sound reasonable.”
“Dick Chaney was the safe-cracker, the professional you brought in who knew all the ins and outs of our government. He was the ultimate gamesman,” McKay told the Hollywood Reporter. “With Donald Trump the front door to the White House is wide open. There’s deer and dogs and hyenas running around. And this guy is like an orangutan just throwing shit around. But Cheney was the grandmaster who finished the deal.”
Unfortunately, this political black comedy’s zany tone and fragmentary structure falters, quickly leading to tedium. Adam McKay, former SNL writer-turned-filmmaker, overdoes the absurdist element, like staging a Machiavellian/Shakespearean soliloquy in the Chaney bedroom.
But 2019 could be the year that versatile Christian Bale, who was previously nominated for “The Fighter,” “American Hustle” and “The Big Short,” finally wins an Oscar. Kudos also to makeup designer Greg Cannom (Oscar-winner for “The Curious Case of Benjamin Button”), who used every trick in the book – except digital touch-ups.
On the Granger Movie Gauge of 1 to 10, “Vice” is a searing, surreal 6, emerging as an incendiary, yet insubstantial satire