Before the movie started, I helped a little old lady seated next to me open her bag of Werther’s Originals. She walked out after about thirty minutes. She didn’t even finish her candy.
We live in a polarizing time. There are certain people with internet connections who believe that Hollywood is a conspiratorial organization hellbent on demonizing conservative public figures and making anyone who disagrees with them out to be mindless buffoons. While this isn’t a take I agree with, I do contend that Adam McKay certainly wasn’t helping things by making Vice. Vice is a political drama that takes us through former Vice President Dick Cheney’s entire career explaining why at each individual step he was the absolute worst human being alive. At one point in the film, the narrator literally compares him to Galactus, Devourer of Worlds. This might sound like an exaggeration, but truly I don’t think I’ve ever seen a more vilifying portrait of a real person-and I’ve probably seen close to a hundred movies about Hitler. The validity of Vice’s claims is certainly dubious and any credibility is dissolved in its own pool of sensationalism but one thing is certain. Adam McKay hates Dick Cheney and is angry that you don’t hate him too.
When Adam McKay transitioned from bro-comedies to political satires with 2015’s The Big Short, it was something of a mitzvah to film fans. It just seemed like what he was destined to do. He had grown-up since the Talladega Nights days and while The Big Short was disliked by some, many people enjoyed it and most would contend it was very well directed. Unfortunately, Vice is a testament to what happens when one flies too close to the sun, as McKay’s explosive opinions ate up anything that might have resembled a good film and rather than presenting something bordering on competence, he gave us an arrogant, hyperactive, misguided diatribe that will prove to be more trouble than it was worth. I sat here and tried to think of someone who would appreciate this movie wholeheartedly. It would have to be someone who hates Cheney as much as McKay, as there really is nothing here for anyone else. I finally came to a conclusion. The only way you would love Vice is if Dick Cheney literally shot you in the face. So wherever that guy is…I hope he’s happy.
Let’s talk about Mr. Bale. Now Christian Bale has garnered a lot of praise for the physical transformations he’s undergone for various roles. He lost over 60 pounds for The Machinist and then immediately gained it back for Batman Begins. He clearly put on some weight for this performance that works in tandem with the hair and make-up team to make him appear “unrecognizable” as the vice president. The only problem is he forgot to put the effort he put into eating carbs into crafting a believable character. His performance in this movie is truly awful. He does nothing the whole time but growl and look a little mean. It reminds me of the contrarians who claimed that Gary Oldman’s portrayal of Winston Churchill was nothing more than a grand charicature hiding behind a really good bald cap. If they thought that was bad, I can only imagine what they think of this disaster.
I highly discourage seeing Vice. This kind of vituperative storytelling will only cause more rancor and division in our current climate and is nothing short of reductive and a waste of talent. There are plenty of good actors lined up here (Amy Adams, Christian Bale, Sam Rockwell) who I believe could have done something interesting with these roles if McKay’s script had given them some more substance to stand on. I even believe a critical look at Dick Cheney’s political career could have been productive or illuminating if it wasn’t so ridiculously over-the-top. Because know this. Strip away the schizophrenic editing, the heavy-handed visual metaphors and exaggerated dialogue and there is absolutely nothing at this movie’s labored, faulty, arrhythmic heart.