Looking back on it, it’s probably fair to say that my first memories of American politics in any real sense came during the years of the George W. Bush administration. Being born in 1989, Bill Clinton was pretty much a guy who was mentioned in the Animaniacs theme and a guy who did something naughty with a girl who worked for him, but from the ages of ten to eighteen, I became well aware of President Bush. Vice President Dick Cheney, however, remained somewhat of a mystery to me, and as this film’s trailer suggested, it was very much a mystery of his own conscious doing.
Vice tells the story of the rise and rise of Dick Cheney (Christian Bale), a young layabout college dropout turned White House intern who, through a great sense of determination and self interest, managed to become CEO of an oil company and eventually land himself on the ticket of George W. Bush’s (Sam Rockwell) 2000 election campaign. Presented in the form of a searing satirical drama, the film shows the audience how a careful, considered, cards to chest wall flower manipulated the President and every other person in his way in order to become pretty much the more powerful man in the world for a number of years.
There is no doubting that Vice gets some things really right. The satire is blistering at times, and the filmmakers showcase plenty of inventive devices and fourth wall breaks to help inject a degree of cynical humour in to the story. If you have seen Adam McKay’s previous picture The Big Short, then you know exactly what to expect. In terms of narrative clarity, Vice feels more accessible to me than The Big Short did, I can’t truthfully say that I understood everything in the 2015 comedy drama, but I certainly understood everything here.
The thing is though, and it’s a big thing, I’m just politically fatigued, completely and utterly fatigued. Despite the sharp, dark humour that pierces through the political and personal drama, Vice, to me, proves to be a draining and ultimately unrewarding experience. There is so much political fuckery occurring right here, right now, that seeing it play out on the big screen too, and in this case seeing decisions made and hoods winked that link directly to today’s political climate, is almost too much to take.
Vice educates viewers in a subjectively entertaining manner on some of the more unknown facts about Cheney’s career and his impact on the Bush administration and wider world, and whilst I can say that I’m glad to be slightly more informed on the subject than I was before, I’m also more incensed, and to be honest, incensed is something I try to avoid whenever I can. It might make me a bad film critic, but I don’t even care that the film itself is well executed, my overriding emotion and feeling is just one of fuck off.
As Dick Cheney, Christian Bale is up to his old impressive body transformation tricks. Portraying the protagonist from the 60s to the 2000s, Bale impresses in every decade, which ironically proves to be a problem because he is so damn unlikeable. He doesn’t play the character as a complete cartoon villain, there is some interesting light and shade especially in the narrative thread of his daughter Mary’s (Alison Pill) coming out, and I suppose it is the changing dynamic from his life in the White House to his life at home that gives the film a little bit more depth. At this point he is probably the joint favourite for the Best Actor Oscar, and whilst he’s really good, I’m not afraid to say that that particular category is a rather underwhelming one this year.
As his long time wife and one woman support system Lynne, Amy Adams brings a breath of fresh(er) air to the film, an interesting female presence in a film that feels very masculine and patriarchal at times. As a character, Lynne Cheney is just as unlikeable in her values and ambitions as her husband, so I can’t say that Adams’ performance is an ‘enjoyable’ one to watch, but there is no denying that she is a master of her craft. Arguably still the greatest actress of her generation not to have an Oscar at home, she’s nominated again for this and I wouldn’t begrudge her the win.
Supporting roles given by the likes of Alison Pill, Lily Rabe, Jesse Plemons, Tyler Perry and Steve Carell (that will not leave me alone of late, first Welcome To Marwen, then Beautiful Boy, now this!) all help to elevate the performance of the film. Sam Rockwell is eerily perfect as George W. Bush, I wouldn’t have imagined it beforehand, but his bumbling, borderline clueless turn is probably the most endearing thing in the entire film. When George W. fucking Bush is the character that you find yourself drawn to in a movie, you know you’re swimming in a cesspit. It’s a stellar cast, nobody lets the side down, it’s just a shame that almost every character is so deplorable.
Overall, Vice is essentially a film that I felt compelled to watch in order to keep up my annual tradition of having seen every Oscar nominated picture. It’s an effective satire, it made me laugh out loud a handful of times, but for all of the reasons discussed above, I knew it was going to be a film that I wasn’t much going to enjoy the experience of. I can appreciate the craft and the execution, but the subject matter is just too draining. It’s too bloody draining. Perhaps this isn’t the best critical review of the film, but it’s the one that came out of my head and my heart, so there you have it.