Film Review: Adam McKay reveals strong yet invisible hand in ‘Vice’


Photo courtesy of Annapurna Pictures 

Story by Maria de Guzman / Contributing Writer

People aren’t exactly jumping at the chance to watch a historical dramedy about one of the most controversial political figures in United States history on Christmas Day. Out of all the topics to avoid during this holiday season, politics is typically at the very top. In an almost poetic way, “Vice” was released at the perfect time. This Golden-Globe nominated film is one-half biopic and one-half scathing satire that fuels both your cynicism and conspiracy theories.

The film follows the personal life and political rise of former Vice President Dick Cheney, portrayed by Christian Bale. On the surface it sounds simple, but what ensues is a surrealist tale that portrays Cheney as the invisible hand to many of the events that took place during the 20th and 21st century; most notably the Sept. 11 attacks and the Iraq War.

Much like Adam McKay’s last directorial effort “The Big Short,” this film was told through a narrator – a seemingly normal American citizen named Kurt who is connected to Cheney in a major way – who cuts in and explains the American political landscape of the late 20th century and its key figures, including former presidents Richard Nixon, Gerald Ford and George W. Bush.

I walked into the theater being a fan of Adam McKay and possessing some knowledge of Cheney and his influence on the Iraq War. I knew that “Vice” would be like reading a David Foster Wallace novel: unconventional, funny and dense. However, even with my expectations, nothing could have prepared me for what I saw on screen and the emotional rollercoaster I went through.

With “Vice,” McKay reveals his strongest hand. As satire, it delivers in its revelation of atrocities and hilarious mockery of politicians, liberals and conservatives. It makes brief allusions to Jeb Bush, Donald Trump and Fox News founder Roger Ailes. The film’s depiction of George W. Bush is minor yet noteworthy; Cheney’s counterpart is portrayed as a bumbling idiot who only went into politics and ran for president in order to please his father.

While Bush becomes the face behind the Iraq War, the film reveals that Cheney was the one making the decisions right over his shoulder. During that time, the film started to feel like a conspiracy theory realized; Cheney would have his own subcommittee that would meet secretly behind Bush’s back, obtaining classified information that was received under the table. It does not hesitate to fuel one’s cynical attitudes towards politicians, especially when McKay flashes C-SPAN footage of Congressional hearings from Jeff Sessions and Hillary Clinton.

While it holds up as satire, the film might not resonate with a general audience – and not because of its heavy political leanings. The editing is not what most people are used to; it’s a bit messy and semi-linear. The jump cuts throughout the film were cues to its metaphors: the American flag, Cheney fishing and enjoying life in between the images of war and bombings add to the confusion that was felt in the early 21st century. However, I can see where that might turn people away from the film, so proceed with caution.

Overall, I enjoyed this film, even as disjointed and cynical as it was. The powerhouse performances by Christian Bale, Amy Adams and Steve Carell are too good to ignore. The cinematography was the perfect blend of traditional cinematic and documentary style. Christmas may not be the time for political discourse, but “Vice” is worth arguing about on the car ride home.

To contact Lifestyles Editor Mamie Lomax, email lifestyles@mtsusidelines.com

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