Every once in a while, I watch the trailers before movies and actually find something that looks interesting and I know I have to see it immediately when it comes out. Vice’s trailer seemed to portray the perfect movie for me: a behind the scenes look at a mysterious, yet powerful figure in Washington D.C. including an entire side story about the Iraq War. Not only did it have a very interesting premise, but it was going to be filmed by director Adam McKay in the same style as The Big Short, a movie that was critically acclaimed and very interesting to watch. Unfortunately, Vice fell short of my expectations in several ways, missing the mark on many of the things that made The Big Short so enjoyable.
Vice follows the life of former Vice President Dick Cheney, played by Christian Bale, from just beyond his college years to his heart transplant a few years ago. Christian Bale’s performance was very good, as was Amy Adams in her portrayal of Lynne Cheney, Dick’s wife. The acting and story of Dick Cheney’s career up until his Vice Presidency were the best parts of the movie by far. The story of the narrator was also woven in well with the movie’s timeline and made for an interesting plot twist at the end. However, the directing of Vice by Adam McKay is what turns this film from being an interesting biopic about a figure we know little about to a movie that is average to below average.
Adam McKay’s directing does a good job in other movies like The Big Short thanks to the complexity and absurdity of the story that he was telling. The housing crisis can be very hard to explain, so having portions of the movie being dedicated to explaining concepts directly to the audience by the actors didn’t really come across as demeaning or unnecessary. The humor injected into these kinds of asides worked well because the housing crisis was so absurd that it was funny to mock it.
These things that worked then failed miserably for Vice and was the main reason I couldn’t stand this movie. McKay dedicates so much time trying to explain the “Unitary Executive Theory” that Dick Cheney was a proponent of when really he could have just done one small aside and be done with it. It’s not that it wasn’t relevant or important, it just wasn’t that hard to understand. The attempts to humorous also fall flat, either because it simply was just not funny at all and went on way too long like the Shakespere bit, or because it was demeaning to Republican values as a whole, not just the crazy values and ideas that made Cheney one of the most hated Vice Presidents in history.
The other thing about Vice that made it miss the mark for me was its turn to an almost Democratic propaganda film near the end for no reason. A metaphor that McKay used about stacking tea cups and not knowing where they would fall when Dick Cheney took office was later brought back collapsing as Cheney’s approval ratings plummeted, yet it also included a montage of modern day issues that Democrats have with Trump, something that felt very offensive to any conservative viewer and also had very little to do with Dick Cheney. The bias against conservatism was shown in a few other portions of the movie and was unnecessary in a film about a man that was widely hated by both sides.
Vice is certainly not unwatchable, especially if you are more left leaning, but its unnecessary additions turn it from a well done biopic to just a mediocre or bad film. If you really have an interest in understanding how Dick Cheney became such a powerful figure in politics, then this is an excellent choice. Anything else and this is just a waste of your time.