Forget What You’ve Heard About ‘Vice’

Steve Carell as Donald Rumsfeld, left, Christian Bale as Dick Cheney, and Sam Rockwell as George W. Bush. 

I had heard that the Dick Cheney biopic starring Christian Bale, Vice, was disappointing, so I was going to skip it. I’m very glad I didn’t — it’s a wild, crazy, funny ride through the life of one of the most influential politicians of recent times.

Christian Bale’s performance alone is worth the price of admission. He is completely transformed into Cheney, doing the dramatic weight change that Bale has carried off for other films. But he also nails Cheney’s weird head tilt and habit of speaking out of one side of his mouth. Amy Adams is terrific as Lynne Cheney, Steve Carell is great as Donald Rumsfeld, and Sam Rockwell really deserves his own movie as George W. Bush.

If viewers were expecting a stately, by-the-numbers biopic, that would explain their disappointment. This is no Lincoln. Vice is a freewheeling romp that veers from scenes of Cheney’s misspent youth to glimpses of White House intrigue, punctuated by narration from a character (Jesse Plemons) whose connection to Cheney is only revealed near the end of the movie. One highlight is a sequence in which Dick and Lynne, tucked cozily in bed, plot their machinations in faux-Shakespearean iambic pentameter. A dollop of Macbeth, anyone?

In a wonderful profile in The New York Times Magazine, director Adam McKay says, “We’re discovering new styles and forms, because this era we’re in demands it. The world has gotten so cartoonishly exaggerated and over the top. Why be subtle anymore?” Why indeed, and Vice is by turns hilarious and frightening, but never subtle. If you want to know about the differences between the film’s Cheney and the real Cheney, The New Yorker has a good article by Nicholas Lemann. And if your political views align with the conservatism of the Reagan/Bush era, then you’re probably better off passing on this film.

I’m having a heart attack, you idiot.

— Dick Cheney, Vice

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