Vice purports to tell the tale of how a largely unremarkable man from Wyoming rose to the heights of power in Washington, D.C., eventually expanding executive powers to unprecedented levels to wage war, pad the pockets of loyal supporters and undermine any attempts to expose those deeds to the people. Starring such reliable comic talents as Steve Carell and Sam Rockwell, along with the always-excellent Christian Bale as Dick Cheney and Amy Adams as Lynne Cheney, and Tyler Perry as Colin Powell (never thought I’d write that sentence) it’s not unreasonable to expect a mix of comedy, drama and satire along the lines of director Adam McKay’s rather-good previous film, The Big Short.
But despite a few good laughs about Cheney’s weak heart and a really fun faux finale about halfway through, Vice overall falls short as a comedy and a drama. Some of that comes from the subject matter, with the filmmakers admitting at the very start of the film that Cheney is famously secretive and little is publicly known about why he’s done the things he’s done. Personally, I found it odd to be watching a portrayal of events that I paid close attention to as they happened (I worked at various newspapers through the 1990s and continue to follow the news) and seeing little added to events by the film that would shock or surprise or change the perception of someone with even the most cursory understanding of those events.
Bale is, as always, great. Yeah, there’s the great makeup that makes him look exactly like Cheney. But it’s the mannerisms, the body language and the voice (remember, Bale’s natural accent is Welsh) that really make the performance remarkable. It’s just too bad he didn’t have more to do with it.
I’m sure McKay and his collaborators debated heavily the correct balance of comedy and drama for this project. The comic moments leave the biggest impact, so it’s a shame they didn’t just play up those points more to expose the Cheney’s career for the comedy of errors history has revealed much of it to be.