It isn’t difficult to recognize Vice as the work of the man who wrote and directed The Big Short, Adam McKay. This is McKay in dark-satire mode, a far cry from his collaborations with Will Ferrell. He presents us with an audacious look at the career of Dick Cheney, a carousing young man who drops out of Yale and only gets his act together when prodded by his sweetheart (and future wife), Lynne, well played by Amy Adams. We witness the evolution of his character and the hardening of his cynical outlook. This is a man who craves power; once he gets a taste of it, he wants more and more.
He makes important alliances with such high-profile players as Donald Rumsfeld (Steve Carell) and later, George W. Bush (Sam Rockwell) as he secures a variety of positions in the government. The story is told in flashback by a character we don’t really know (Jesse Plemons) and only learn about late in the game.
If there is a definition of “meta,” it might be this movie, which is self-reflexive and comments on itself from start to finish. It’s tempting to reveal some of its cleverest moments but that would involve the worst kind of spoilers.
It can be said, without fear of contradiction, that Christian Bale gives a transformative performance as Cheney. This goes beyond the actor gaining weight and changing his appearance; he seems to inhabit the real-life Cheney we all remember, and the creation is more than skin-deep. He is surrounded by other fine actors who walk a fine line between caricature and reality, tipping the scales toward the latter to remind us that these world-famous figures were very real indeed.
McKay seems to delight in playing with his audience and our expectations, veering from farce to the blackest kind of comedy. If you grew up in this era there are many painful reminders of fateful moments during the George W. Bush administration, many of which were willed into being by his insatiable Vice President. The film suggests that he was the one who orchestrated the U.S. invasion of Iraq in the days following the 9/11 attacks.
Vice manages to be highly entertaining while offering considerable food for thought. That’s no small feat.