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Vice (Christian Bale) - DVD Review

Vice

Review by Rob Carnevale

IndieLondon Rating: 4 out of 5

ADAM McKay, of Anchorman and The Big Short fame, takes aim at former US Vice President Dick Cheney with spectacularly vitriolic results in Vice, a no holds barred take down anchored by a mesmerising central performance from Christian Bale.

Eschewing the conventions of a more traditional, even balanced, biopic, McKay’s satire instead opts to go for the jugular of its subject, with hilariously grisly and yet damningly tragic results.

As Vice President during the George W Bush administration, Cheney was quite often the real power behind the throne, so much so that McKay lays the blame for the state of the world as it is today (Trump, ISIS et al).

Yet while steadfast Republicans may label the film biased and unpatriotic, neutrals and those with open minds may find it hard to ignore many of the facts that McKay presents.

Cheney was the man, after all, who advocated the use of water boarding post 9/11 as part of enhanced interrogation techniques. He was instrumental in setting up Guantanamo Bay. He was the Chairman and CEO of big oil company Halliburton, which saw its profits soar during the Iraq War (a campaign he, again, masterminded). He shot someone by accident on a hunting trip but refused to apologise. And those are just some of his greatest hits.

Vice charts his rise from drunken dropout to political go-getter during the time of the Nixon administration through the Reagan era, right through to his manipulation of George W Bush Jnr to give himself more power. But rather than admire the man, it seeks to ‘expose’ the lies, corruption and manipulating it took to get him there.

Yet it also seeks to entertain. Hence, McKay employs the same kind of gimmickery he used in his Oscar winning docu-drama The Big Short, by frequently breaking down the fourth wall (via the use of a narrator), employing fantasy sequences and even dropping in some Shakespeare for a Macbeth-inspired behind-the-scenes moment between Cheney and his wife.

It will make you laugh. But it should also make you angry. Quite often, there are pointed accusations at the audience, too, for being unwittingly complicit in the rise of such men. McKay makes it plain that by taking our eyes off the ball (admittedly due to working longer hours and being paid less), men like Cheney are allowed to quietly operate under the radar. It’s a sobering thought.

Anchoring the film, meanwhile, is a towering central performance from Christian Bale, whose skill is to imbue the character with an intelligent stealth that those around him never saw coming. Sure, there are times when his Cheney seems woefully out of his depth, when the impersonation borders on parody, but therein lies its subtle genius.

Without winking to the audience, Bale watches, listens, manoeuvres and then strikes. He’s always thinking. And when he’s not thinking, he’s the patient fisherman, just waiting for the right bite.

Vice

There’s strong support, too, from the likes of Amy Adams, as his equally scheming wife, Lynne – a Lady Macbeth style character who provides the initial motivation for her husband’s journey, and who prompts him at several moments throughout – and Sam Rockwell as a somewhat goofy Bush, who is equally naïve to Cheney’s charm. Steve Carell registers strongly as the self-serving Donald Rumsfield, who inadvertently helps Cheney’s early rise before becoming one of his right-hand men.

If there’s a criticism of McKay’s film, it’s that the anger is so strong, it sometimes clouds the film’s judgement. There is no attempt made to try and understand its subject or see things from his perspective. The ‘why’ is never asked, even during the film’s more absurdly realised moments.

McKay isn’t interested in what makes Cheney tick. There’s no humanity on show. And that turns the film into an easy target for its staunchest critics, particularly those intent on branding it nothing less than liberal propaganda.

But even with that in mind, Vice remains an important film. It will divide, for sure. But it’s fearless in exposing a dark chapter in US history that continues to have widespread, even chilling repercussions for the world as we know it today. As much as you may find yourself laughing, there’s something haunting in the film’s legacy too.

Certificate: 15
Running time: 2hrs 12mins
UK Blu-ray & DVD Release: June 3, 2019

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