Former Vice President Dick Cheney elicited many strong opinions during his tenure in President George W. Bush’s administration, especially for his role in the United States' escalation of war and torture. Any movie that focused on him would take him to task, but writer/director Adam McKay has gone the extra mile in Vice.
Instead of telling a story solely about those eight years, McKay goes all the way back to his early 20s, when Cheney (Christian Bale) was an alcoholic whose rabble-rousing threatened to end his relationship with his wife, Lynne (Amy Adams). Cheney soon loses the drinking but keeps his tendency toward provocation as he slowly but surely makes his rise in politics.
Among those aiding in his ascent is Donald Rumsfeld (Steve Carell), who, as a Congressman in the 1960s, was not afraid to mix things up, either. Cheney makes connections with a number of high-powered people, including Richard Nixon, Gerald Ford, George H.W. Bush, and others, giving him a taste of power. But it’s not until George W. Bush (Sam Rockwell) taps him to be his running mate that, according to the film, he finds the control to which he always aspired.
Up until 2013, McKay had directed only broad comedies like the Anchorman films and Step Brothers. But he announced himself as a filmmaker of note with 2015’s half drama/half comedy The Big Short, and Vice continues in that tradition of tackling serious material in a satirical manner.
If Cheney’s life story was approached in a straightforward way, it would likely be one of the most depressing movies ever made. McKay’s method doesn’t make the story any less infuriating, but at least it’s terrifyingly entertaining. He utilizes a number of great tricks, including a mysterious narrator (Jesse Plemons) and some truly surprising moments, to keep the film at a high level throughout.
As the movie acknowledges in an opening title card, Cheney was regarded as one of the most secretive people in government history, so there’s no way to know the absolute truth about him. But there are elements to the story that, if true, rival or surpass anything going on in the current presidential administration.
As good as the story is, the film absolutely pops because of Bale’s performance. Using a combination of weight gain, perfect makeup, and a flawless impersonation, Bale is thisclose to being indistinguishable from the real Cheney. Bale has done some amazing work in the past, but this is his best performance yet, a testament to how dedicated to his craft he is.
He’s complemented extremely well by superb turns from Adams, Carell, and Rockwell. And that’s not to mention the number of great actors in smaller roles, including Plemons, Allison Pill, Tyler Perry, Eddie Marsan, Justin Kirk, and more.
There’s no doubt that Vice will play best to those who regard Cheney as a political manipulator of the highest order, but even if you don’t, do your best to appreciate the level of skill it takes to accomplish everything seen in this fantastic film.