by Nick Hermosilla ‘19
Adam McKay’s newest film “Vice” is one of the most unintentionally funny and impressive yet poorly executed movies of this past year. The film stars Christian Bale as Dick Cheney, Amy Adams as Lynne Cheney, Steve Carell as Donald Rumsfeld, and Sam Rockwell as George W Bush. Despite it’s outwards appearance as a biopic of former Vice President Cheney, the film ends up as a disjointed political satire with weird visual gimmicks, and simplistic (often times flat out dishonest) account of events that’s only saved by the amazing performances of the cast.
Arguably the best and only redeeming quality of “Vice” is its all-star cast. Bale’s portrayal of Dick Cheney is extremely convincing, down to the point where it’s easy to forget that this is the same man who played Batman a few years ago. His mannerisms perfectly capture Cheney’s political ruthlessness and his ability to plan and be several steps ahead of his competitors. Additionally Amy Adams’ Lynne Cheney does great at showing how Dick Cheney himself was motivated to lift himself up from being an unemployed college dropout to climbing up the ranks of Washington in order live up to his wife’s expectations. Her performance also shows how she was a driving force behind Cheney’s success, constantly helping him with things like organizing campaigns and giving public statements. But the real standout performance is Steve Carell as Donald Rumsfeld, former Secretary of Defense during the Bush administration. His mentor and eventually sidekick role to Cheney creates an enjoyable buddy comedy that outdoes most of the other “comedic” elements.
Most of what’s supposed to be the satire of the film is done through gimmick scenes. For example there’s a scene that shows Cheney, Rumsfeld, David Addington (Cheney’s lawyer), and Paul Wolfowitz (former Deputy Secretary of Defense) all sitting at a restaurant and being offered various things such like “extraordinary rendition” and “enhanced interrogation” on the menu. The scene ends with Cheney stating they’ll take them all and the four proceed to maniacally laugh like cartoon villains. These hamfisted attempts at comedy only treat audiences like children and aren’t even funny with what they say; only serving as a point for McKay to claim that the movie is somehow nuanced. Another element McKay attempts to use for comedic value is a narrator, played by Jesse Plemons. His role in the story is minor, mostly explaining certain events and concepts with extreme simplicity, until it’s revealed that he is donor for Cheney’s heart transplant from 2011. Most of his lines that were meant to be funny fell flat on me and the rest of the audience.
Arguably the worst part about the movie is the liberties it takes with explaining concepts and making connections to contemporary events. The most important omission is that of Cheney and Rumsfeld’s commitment to any ideals. While both were extremely convinced in the U.S.’s role in spreading liberal democracy after the Cold War, the movie disregards that and shows them both as wanting power for power’s sake. There’s also the gross misrepresentation of the unitary executive theory, which the movie describes as “the power of dictators” but in reality really only means that the President has absolute authority over intra-executive branch decisions. Another fallacy in the movie’s storytelling is the connection it tries to draw between 1980s and 90s Republicans, like Reagan, and Donald Trump. McKay’s asserts this by claiming, falsely, Reagan only appealed to the white, upper class demographic; ignoring the fact that Reagan actually won the popular vote, had an approval rating of 71 percent and later went on to grant amnesty for over 2 million illegal immigrants. All of these are in contrast to President Trump’s presidency so far.
In terms of bad history, “Vice” is full of it. The big tip off for the audience should be the opening slide that states that Cheney is one of the most secretive leaders ever, with the film using it as an excuse for any inaccuracies. The largest omission is that of Cheney’s term as Secretary of Defense, which had a single mention. One would think that the job Cheney has said was his favorite would get more attention in a movie about Dick Cheney. Additionally, the film mischaracterizes an aspect of the Iraq War justification that’s used to make another horrible comparison. One of the Bush administration’s justifications the invasion was that Iraq gave safe haven to Al-Qaeda in Iraq (AQI). “Vice” claims that the speech Colin Powell gave to the UN about this threat, who the movie claims Cheney forced into the speech, led to this group to become a threat. Not only is there not a single other source that claims Cheney forced Powell to give that speech, but AQI had been a threat since the 1993 World Trade Center bomber sought refuge there. The movie then claims that this acknowledgement of a legitimate threat caused the rise of ISIS. This completely disregards the fact that ISIS, as many people now know it, only adopted that name in 2014 after American withdrawal from the country. Cheney has his faults, but blaming him for ISIS is ridiculous.
“Vice” is an unorganized mess that doesn’t know what it wants to be. The strange storytelling gimmicks and inaccuracies make it a bad satire and a bad biopic, with the acting of the main cast being the only thing that makes it worth watching. At least it’s somewhat self-aware, with the end credits scene ironically mentioning how some people may call the movie “liberal bias.” But the inaccuracies and omissions are so insanely blatant that it’s not even bias for any political ideology, it’s just horrible storytelling for a movie that claims to be accurate to recent history.