by Alan Yudman
Maybe it’s still too fresh in our minds and hearts. Dick Cheney’s evil reign as Vice President of the United States still gives me agita. I can’t think of the horrible things he did that have ruined several parts of this country without my blood boiling. But that is a debate and a post for another blog. So, how can you tell his story without sending the audience screaming from the theater in anger. The answer is you can’t, and Adam McKay doesn’t even try in VICE. Instead he embraces it.
The title is most likely an intentional double entendre. He was the Vice President who’s vice was the accumulation of power. And Cheney would do just about anything to achieve his goal. Lies, corruption, twisting interpretations of the Constitution were not left out of his toolbox.
The other challenge was Cheney is a deeply private man. The documents relating to his time as Veep are few because he conspired to not leave a paper trail. McKay acknowledges this difficulty right off the bat in an opening title card.
The casting of Christian Bale as Cheney is inspired. Bale went all in. He gained 45 pounds and shaved his head. He also sat in makeup for hours every day to complete the transformation and it works perfectly. He also has Cheney’s stilted growl down perfectly. But McKay doesn’t just paint a picture of evil. Cheney is a screwup at first before he is mentored by Donald Rumsfeld (Steve Carrell), then a congressman from Illinois. That’s where he learns his craft. He shows Cheney as a loving husband and father who truly cares about his daughters Liz and Mary. He also adores his wife Lynne (Amy Adams). But even that love can be compromised for what he perceives as a greater good (not good.. really, REALLY evil).
This is not a straight ahead biopic. McKay jumps back and forth in time. Sometimes it is a bit confusing, but once you’re on board you figure out what’s going on. Fishing is also a big thing in the movie. McKay used Barton Gellman’s biography “Angler: The Cheney Vice Presidency” as source material, so Cheney’s love of fishing is a theme throughout. There is also something very Shakespearean about the story. The naked grab for power at all costs, while attempting to balance that with love of family. McKay goes all in on that too. There is one scene where Cheney and Lynne are discussing whether he should accept George W. Bush’s (Sam Rockwell) offer to be Vice President. McKay has written near perfect Shakespeare-style dialogue as Dick and Lynne debate power versus love while lying in bed. It was so good I went searching for which play it is from. It isn’t from any. McKay made it up. Genius. Then at the end Cheney turns to the audience to justify his evil. Man, it was chilling.
The cast is brilliant. In addition to Bale, Adams shines as the loving yet power hungry Lynne, constantly pushing her husband to achieve more. Carrell is a genius choice for the gruff, blunt and sometimes obscene Rumsfeld. Rockwell doesn’t go too far into parody for Bush, which is a brilliant choice. Eddie Marsan is the spitting image of Paul Wolfowitz. Justin Kirk (Scooter Libby), Alison Pill (Mary), Lily Rabe (Liz), Don McManus (attorney/adviser David Addington) are all spectacular. Even seeming stunt casting like Tyler Perry as Colin Powell works great.
There is a lot of comedy in the film. Can you make heart attacks funny? Yes. Yes you can.. each one of Cheney’s is played for a chuckle. McKay makes a lot of choices that seem weird, but in the end they all come together. Jesse Plemons is the narrator who we actually see and plays a pivotal role that I won’t spoil. Then as the credits roll you find you’ve put it all together and see the line from all of this evil-doing to where we are today and how it could happen again and again with the wrong person in the White House.
McKay won an Oscar for adapted screenplay for THE BIG SHORT. Maybe he should win another for this inspired film that will have you thinking for days after you’ve seen it.