Director Adam McKay (The Big Short) directs a satirical biography about former U.S. Vice President Dick Cheney in Vice. Dick Cheney (Christian Bale) began his political career in 1969, working as an intern in the Nixon administration, working under economic administrator Donald Rumsfeld (Steve Carell), with Cheney later becoming Chief of Staff for Gerald Ford and Secretary of Defense for George H.W. Bush. After seemingly retreating from the public eye for a quiet life with his wife Lynne (Amy Adams), Cheney is asked by George W. Bush (Sam Rockwell) to be his running mate, paving the way towards Dick Cheney becoming the most powerful Vice President in U.S. history.
In a similar fashion to how he handled the events leading to the 2008 financial crash in The Big Short, Adam McKay uses Vice to explain to audiences how Dick Cheney, a supporter of the Unitary executive theory, was the one with the true decision-making power during George W. Bush’s presidency. Narrated by Kurt (Jesse Plemons), whose connection to Dick Cheney is a secret for most of the film, Vice breaks down the events that lead to Dick Cheney becoming Vice President and how he presumably exploited the 9/11 terrorist attack to come up with an excuse to invade Iraq.
It can be argued that 2015’s The Big Short marked a transition point in Adam McKay’s directorial career, as he progressed from directing straight up comedies, like Anchorman and Step Brothers, into satirical dramas that get awards contention. In fact, it can be argued that Vice is a de facto sequel to The Big Short, since the formula of both films are quite similar, which includes characters breaking the fourth wall to the audience exactly how Dick Cheney took advantage of the Bush administration to meet his own agenda. The film also goes into the consequences of Dick Cheney’s actions, one of the most harmful being orchestrating the invasion of Iraq, which inadvertently lead to the formation of ISIS.
While I thought that this type of wink at the audience plot structure worked quite well in The Big Short, I do think that Adam McKay is going way too much hand holding in Vice, with there being entire scenes dedicated to simply explaining every single policy and law Dick Cheney exploited. In fact, probably the only fourth wall breaking moment in Vice that truly worked for me is when Christian Bale as Dick Cheney does it himself at the end of the film.
In fact, Christian Bale’s performance is probably the biggest take away I have from Vice. Bale is a true method actor and through layers of make-up, he essentially becomes Dick Cheney in his performance, right down to various facial tick. The film also features solid performances by Steve Carell as Donald Rumsfeld and Amy Adams as Lynne Cheney. Sam Rockwell does a fine job as George W. Bush, though he isn’t in the film enough to leave much of an impression.
While it is refreshing that Adam McKay has been taking his career in a different direction, Vice ultimately tries too hard to recreate what worked with The Big Short and the result is a hand holding satire that perhaps winks at the camera a bit too much.