Adam McKay is quickly becoming the one of the most unique writer/directors currently working. After creating classic comedies like ‘Anchorman’, ‘Step Brothers’ and ‘The Other Guys’, he turned his attention to more serious topics with ‘The Big Short’, using his comedy background to make the 2008 Financial Crisis entertaining. This time, McKay turns his attention to the White House during the Bush/Cheney administration, and it’s no overstatement to say that he has created a satirical masterpiece.
When the trailer for ‘Vice’ came out in October, it seemed that it would be a thoroughly entertaining and interesting film. Telling the story of Dick Cheney’s rise to power, it promised to show us the untold story of how he managed to become the most powerful Vice President in American history, without anyone realising. It certainly delivers on that promise, but what was not made clear from the trailer was just how unbelievably sarcastic the film is.
The film’s tone strikes a perfect balance of black comedy and sarcasm to ensure the horrific acts of political power play are still entertaining to watch. The film is shot like a documentary, using a narrator, handheld film cameras and fast zooms to show the real events in a believable way. It is an incredibly smart film, that depends on the audience being in on the twisted joke. Provided you know everything happening on screen is evil, you’re able to nervously laugh the entire way through. And boy are those laughs hearty.
Taking centre stage is the incredible chameleon that is Christian Bale. He’s been Batman, he’s been a psychopath, he’s been a machinist weighing just 120 pounds, and now he has piled on an extra 40 pounds to play the overweight politician (it was reported that he gained the weight before realising it could have all been done with prosthetics, showing just how committed he is to his craft). Unsurprisingly, Bale is phenomenal and utterly believable as the power-hungry tyrant. He is so cold and laid back, and yet has a dark intensity that seems ready to burst out at any moment.
Everyone else is fantastic in this film, though they are all unfortunately outshone by Bale’s substantial shadow. However, praise must also go to Sam Rockwell, who somehow looks and sounds EXACTLY like George W. Bush (and luckily, that was the part he was playing). He plays him perfectly, with just enough insecurity that Cheney can swoop in and puppeteer him in the right (or very wrong) direction.
The film’s original title was ‘Backseat’ and it’s clear why. This is the story of how someone managed to backseat drive his way into one of the most powerful positions in the world. The film uses a lot of incredibly on-the-nose metaphors to display this, most prominently showing the parallels of Cheney’s love of Fishing, and his ability to ‘reel’ anyone in. These strange editing choices work fantastically well, and though completely juxtaposing, they also create a fantastic message. It is an unbelievably unsubtle film, telling an incredibly left-wing story about right-wing events. But, provided you are politically aligned with the film, this is no issue whatsoever.
If it’s not clear by now, I was utterly blown away by this film. It spits out a crippling narrative in such an original way, and has incredible performances from all the leads. However, this film is special on an even more fundamental level. ‘Vice’ serves as a reminder for why I love the cinema. It shows how the medium can be used to tell important stories in utterly original ways.