Hamilton Herald Masthead


Front Page - Friday, January 11, 2019

Critic's Corner: It might not be history but ‘Vice’ is entertaining

When I purchased a ticket to see “Vice,” I was worried I didn’t know enough about its subject, Dick Cheney, to judge the accuracy of the film’s portrayal of the 46th vice president of the United States.

Then came the scene in which Cheney and his wife, Lynne, speak to each other in Shakespearean verse about his first meeting with George W. Bush, and I relaxed. Clearly, writer-director Adam McKay (“Anchorman: The Legend of Ron Burgundy” and “Talladega Nights: The Ballad of Ricky Bobby”) didn’t create a factual blow-by-blow of Cheney’s political career, but rather used fabrication to get closer to the truth as he perceives it.

I say “as he perceives it” out of necessity. Much “Vice” plays like a conspiracy theorist’s expensive YouTube video, with frequent interjections of recreated grainy news footage, a voiceover that breathlessly connects Cheney’s actions to the rise of such horrors as ISIS, and general silliness.

Whatever. Accurate or not, I laughed a lot while watching “Vice.” Having never seen a McKay film (mainly because I don’t care for “comedian” Will Ferrell, whom he often uses), I didn’t know his sarcasm and expressions of political disgust could be as funny as they are.

There’s a mid-movie epilogue that’s the funniest thing I’ve seen in a theater since “Tootsie” (I don’t watch a lot of comedies), and a scene in which Cheney suggests to President Ford that they engage in a certain activity I can’t repeat here nearly had me in stitches because of how straight the actors played it.

(McKay’s point was that Cheney had so ingrained himself into the power structure of Washington that the most powerful people in the nation would do whatever he suggested.)

But as much as McKay was able to turn Cheney’s rise to power into entertainment, the film makes a sobering argument that Cheney spent his political career orchestrating power moves from behind the scenes, including actions that led to the Iraq War.

So, the same film that made me laugh also shut me up and made me think. McKay wears his outrage on his sleeve, which is off-putting at times, but it’s impossible to deny the power of a scene in which Donald Rumsfeld tells Cheney that they’re standing outside a room in which Nixon and Kissinger are discussing the bombing of Cambodia, and that their discussion would lead to the deaths of women and children in villages across the country.

McKay punctuates the moment with a shot of children playing in a Cambodian village and a bomb exploding on that very spot.

The thing I adored the most about “Vice” was its knockout cast. What a phenomenal group of actors. In addition to Christian Bale as Cheney, McKay gives us Amy Adams as Lynne, Steve Carrell as Rumsfeld, Sam Rockwell as Bush, Tyler Perry as Colin Powell, and LisaGay Hamilton as Condoleezza Rice. McKay could have filmed these folks ordering Chick-Fil-A for two hours, and it would have been great.

The uncanny thing about the cast is how much each actor looks like person he or she is playing. After watching “Vice,” I Googled Rumsfeld and was amazed by how much Carrell looked liked the real thing.

Bale, of course, required layers of prosthetics and make-up to be turned into the older, pudgier Cheney, but wow, what a transformation. It’s a testament to Bale’s considerable skills as an actor that he’s able to articulate Cheney as remarkably as he does. From the VP’s voice, to his mannerisms, to his impenetrable deadpan expression, Bale nailed his character, and is great fun to watch.

Adams is also terrific. She portrays Cheney’s wife as opportunistic and more interested in position and power than love, and her tense, emotional performance keeps “Vice” centered.

Perhaps the last thing you want to watch is a movie by a liberal filmmaker who spends two hours moaning about a powerful conservative politician. I get it. But while McKay commits sins of omission and probably misrepresents the facts at times, he also plays fair.

For example, when McKay comes to the part of the story where Cheney’s daughter tells her parents she’s gay, he portrays Cheney as loving and accepting, regardless of his conservative ideologies. The director even shows how Cheney would have been willing to walk away from politics if anyone had insisted he adopt the party line instead.

In the end, though, “Vice” abhors its central character, and proclaims him to be the bringer of great evils. The accuracy of McKay’s portrayal of Cheney might be up for debate, but there’s no denying that his film both a fun and sobering two hours at the movies.