“… a film that can’t decide which side of the war it is on.”
After the disappointment that was Anchorman 2: The Legend Continues and the hit that was The Big Short, writer/director Adam McKay moved on from Will Ferrell and decided that pseudo-biographical social commentary was going to be his new best friend. His most recent effort Vice, a story about American Vice-President Dick Cheney, goes to show that lighting rarely strikes twice; especially when you’re trying to catch it in a bottle.
Vice was interesting. The best way I can describe is with an analogy. Have you ever walked through a neighbourhood and seen a house that was just fucking ugly? Like the kind of house where you stop and think to yourself “Who in their right mind made, or even approved that”? You know that all of the bricks and building materials used aren’t bad, but the finished product is so god-awful that it really makes you question who put all of those great materials together to create this. That’s Vice.
Vice is a movie that can’t make up it’s mind. It is obvious that Adam McKay has some really strong opinions about the former Vice-President, and that bias shines through like the sun through lace. Instead of presenting these outlandish, disgusting acts in an unbiased manner and letting the audience come to their own conclusion, McKay refuses to be hands-off.
Every scene has his fingerprints all over it. I understand that it’s his movie, but when trying to create a biographical picture you have to let the subject hold the microphone for a while. It got to the point where I wouldn’t even be able to make up my mind about Dick Cheney had I not known about him before going into the movie. Sure McKay highlights his disgusting behaviour and political acts, but they are scattered throughout these obviously contrived scenarios that mimic political cartoons leaving you wondering what is fact and what is a punchline.
Like I said all of the building materials are great. There are phenomenal performances given throughout by Christian Bale as Dick Cheney and Amy Adams as Lynne Cheney, as well as a tremendous cast of supporting characters. There were a few that I found were a little off, but it’s not really their fault. For one I cannot shake Steve Carrell as Michael Scott, especially given the ridiculous scenarios McKay had him act out. It was is if our favourite Scranton paper company boss was running wild in the Whitehouse. And I also never really bought Sam Rockwell as George W. Bush. Again, it’s no fault of his own but to me George Bush has two appearances: George Bush and Will Ferrell. It’s ironic that McKay didn’t bring his old best friend back to inject a little bit of life into these parts of the film, but I guess he was going for accuracy over laughs. Which is strange considering the rest of the movie.
In terms of the story Vice bit off more than it could chew in my opinion. It never dragged per-se, but deciding to chronicle Dick Cheney’s entire life really led to the confusion on his character that I touched on in the beginning of this review. We were shown this man who overcame insane odds and whose tenacity was only matched by the love for his wife and children, but that wasn’t the story McKay wanted to tell which is why this segment is intercut with Cheney kickstarting the war in Iraq.
This temporal inconsistency really shows how torn McKay was about the subject. You can feel his hatred throughout the film, but also sense this kind of twisted respect he has for the man. This is only strengthened by the weird direct-address Dick Cheney gives at the end of the film chronicling how he regrets nothing. Why give the man you hate so much a soapbox, especially when you are directly controlling how he is portrayed?
The film ends with a weird fourth-wall breaking callback to reality wherein the audience (us) is a secret member of a focus group about the film we just watched. This is where McKay loses me completely. He crosses the finish line with, at worst, people content, and then proceeds to drop trou and take a steaming dump right in front of everyone. I’m assuming the people who were already in love with this film were enamoured by his gumption, but the people who were on the fence, specifically me, were pushed back to the “what the fuck did I just watch?” side.
Overall Vice is a bloated mess of a film that can’t decide which side of the war it is on. This is not the fault of the people involved who actually gave pretty great performances, but more the fault of the overall vision of the film (pr lack thereof).
I give Vice a C