I have trouble approaching a film about Dick Cheney and also involving Donald Rumsfeld and George W. Bush. I have long believed that if there were any justice all three would have been charged with crimes against humanity for the multitude of dead and wounded they caused by invading Iraq with the lie of Saddam Hussein having weapons of mass destruction. But in a country perpetrating war crimes such acts are merely considered policy mistakes.
The saving grace for “Vice,” a story of Cheney’s rise to power and use of it, is that writer-director Adam McKay mixes history with underlying satire. The film is also distinguished by a superb portrayal of Cheney by Christian Bale, who, by means of makeup and acting prowess, makes Cheney come realistically alive. It is among the year’s major acting achievements.
Another performance I thoroughly enjoyed was that of Sam Rockwell as President George W. Bush. He has Bush’s look, speech and demeanor down pat. He could have fooled me. Another plus is the depiction of Cheney’s tough wife, Lynne, by the excellent Amy Adams. Steve Carell etches a sharp portrait of Rumsfeld.
“Vice” captures the sweep of history and its take reflects McKay’s basic disapproval. He pulls no punches about Cheney’s wielding of power and the resulting widespread loss of lives. It is a remarkable study of a man’s scheming and cleverness in achieving such a position, and given the history of vice presidents being more in the shadows, his influence in the office is certainly unusual.
But McKay also seeks to reveal the human personal side of Cheney, and that someone softens the critical blows. To his credit, McKay also often retains a sense of humor in exploring the outrageousness of it all. The entourage of other political figures of the era is portrayed by a large and efficient cast.
On balance “Vice” stands out as an important film of the year no matter how one might react to its content. An Annapurna Pictures release. Reviewed December 25, 2018.