I’m not sure why we need a Dick Cheney biopic right now, especially during the holiday season.
Judging from “Vice,” a biopic chronicling Dick Cheney’s rise to power, I don’t think writer-director Adam McKay (“The Big Short,” “Anchorman”) does either.
Like “W,” the George W. Bush biopic from Oliver Stone in 2008, you wonder why did someone bother making this. Detractors still will not like the subject, and supporters will brush the movie off and ignore it.
“Vice” is especially short-handed because, as it admits in its opening card, Cheney is one of the most secretive political figures in modern history so, the filmmakers write, “We did our (expletive) best.”
An unrecognizable Christian Bale plays Cheney with a mixture of quiet thoughtfulness and seething rage. Whether it’s the fall of the Nixon administration or 9/11, when he sees an opportunity for money and power, he goes for it.
The friends Cheney makes along the way, like Donald Rumsfeld (Steve Carell), George W. Bush (Sam Rockwell) and Scooter Libby (Justin Kirk), aren’t as much acquaintances as they are pieces on a game board. Like Cheney, they’re also lobbying for their own political capital and see him as a means to gain it.
McKay presents Cheney’s meteoric rise like he did with the 2008 financial crisis in “The Big Short” — a ton of quick cuts, non-sequitors and breaking the fourth wall to underline any point that might have confused the audience.
While some cutaways work, like the news-grabbing hunting incident and a humorous false ending in the middle of the movie, it’s not as effective as it was with “The Big Short.” Narration provided by a mystery character (played by Jesse Plemons) is intrusive and doesn’t pay off. Moments when Cheney directly addresses the audience are jarring.
Even though he’s portrayed as a political mastermind, Cheney never comes across as an interesting central character. We learn very little about him that we didn’t already know.
Bale does as well as he can with capturing Cheney’s monotone voice and introverted stature. He disappears into the role without it ever feeling like he’s overdoing his mannerisms. Carell and Rockwell are comedically on-point, turning Rumsfeld and Bush into goofy, power-hungry sidekicks. Amy Adams teeters on being caring and venomous as Lynne Cheney, Dick’s wife.
Despite featuring fine performances, “Vice” is a lot of work for middling results. It wants to be groundbreaking and enlightening, but it comes across more like Cheney — something you’ll hear a lot about, but that turns out to be quite boring.
— Andrew Gaug | St. Joe Live