Monday, December 17, 2018

Movie with Abe: Vice

Christian Bale as Dick Cheney in Adam McKay’s VICE, an Annapurna Pictures release.
Credit : Greig Fraser / Annapurna Pictures 2018 © Annapurna Pictures, LLC. All Rights Reserved.

Directed by Adam McKay
Released December 25, 2018

Politics are ripe for mockery, in part because the decisions that have to be made at such a high level are both impactful and carefully scrutinized by an increasingly aware public. Variety shows like “Saturday Night Live” have skewered elected officials in power for decades, sometimes earning an amused approval from those portrayed in a less than favorable fashion. Creating an entire film based on a comedic depiction of real-life figures well-known from recent American history is a more unique enterprise, one that carries more gravity than a simple sketch parodying one action or event.

Dick Cheney (Christian Bale) begins his political career as an intern for the cutthroat Donald Rumsfeld (Steve Carell) after early years spent messing around in college and straightened out only by his strong-willed wife, Lynne (Amy Adams). When Democrats take back the White House in 1977, Cheney gives Congress a try before retreating back to the private sector. His return to politics in 2000 brings with it the opportunity to yield untold power as he turns the traditional figurehead position of vice-president serving under George W. Bush (Sam Rockwell) into something it’s never before been and will likely never be again.

Director Adam McKay, who used to make full-on comedies that didn’t have nearly this level of sophistication, hit it big with Oscar three years ago with “The Big Short,” a clever take on the financial crisis laced with biting humor. Now, he’s made something that at times resembles his prior work, featuring villains that might as well be twirling their mustaches and regularly admit to treating their country and international rivals as chess pieces in a game that they’re all too content playing. This film begins with the note that it is a true story, though it can only be as true as possible given Cheney’s tendency for being incredibly secretive. The way in which so much of the events depicted are embellished for cinematic effect makes it difficult to believe that some, if not most, of it actually happened. Bush asking Cheney to be his vice-president and signing away his political legacy while licking barbecue sauce off his fingers is one such instance among many, undeniably entertaining but impossible to take seriously.

The editing in this film is particularly schizophrenic, jumping all throughout Cheney’s career almost at random, interspersing graphic and sometimes disturbing visual interpretations of what its characters are doing and what motivates them. At the same time, it seems to gloss over multi-year periods during that might fill in equally fascinating facets of Cheney’s life and career. Bale is doing intense mimicry, capturing Cheney’s demeanor and essence, and it’s easy to forget that he’s buried under the character. Adams stands out as the spouse equally vested in his success. Those interested in this subject matter should check out the documentary “The World According to Dick Cheney,” which is just as furiously engaging but far less frustrating in its depiction, which gives its central figure a change to chime in that adds a needed grounding.


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