"The two of us stood on the actual murder spot for a few minutes in silence, realising that true life, and death, are so much more important than the movies"-from the filming diary of Alan Parker, making Mississippi Burning
Spanning half a century, Dick Cheney's (Christian Bale) complex journey from rural Wyoming electrical worker to de facto President of the United States is a darkly comic and often unsettling inside look at the use and misuse of institutional power. Guided by his formidable and unfailingly loyal wife, Lynne (Amy Adams) and mentored by the brusque and blustery Donald Rumsfeld (Steve Carell), Cheney insinuates himself into the Washington DC fabric. It is clear there is more than one Dick Cheney. (Based on a true story.)
Review by Louise Keller: It's bold, brilliant and totally unnerving. Meticulously researched and fearless in its approach, Adam McKay has created a masterful and darkly disturbing satire that shines a light on power, ambition and corruption at the highest level. McKay's ambitious screenplay slithers like a poisonous snake as it delves into the of darkest corners, but it is the integration of real life footage with transformative performances that are simply gob-smacking in their credibility. The opening titles set the tone: 'This is a true story... we did our fucking best.' Dense, thought provoking and blackly funny, this is a film that will keep you awake at night.
So convincing is Christian Bale as Dick Cheney, it is as though the character has swallowed up the actor. The physicality of the man, coupled with extraordinary makeup is astounding. So measured is his delivery, that as per the promise, he makes even the wildest ideas sound measured. These are the ideas he puts forward in his championing of the unitary executive theory in which he believes in the President's absolute power.
But Bale is not alone. Amy Adams is fearsome as Cheney's demanding wife, who gives her unfocused husband an ultimatum after booze and brawls 'to have the courage to be someone' or she will leave him. Adams does not overplay the role - she makes Lynne totally believable: the driving force behind the man. Casting is key to the success of the film and great care has been taken to authenticate each of the high profile players. Steve Carell breathes life into Donald Rumsfeld while Sam Rockwell as a young George W. Bush is a total knockout. Not only does Rockwell resemble the former President and once black-sheep son, but captures his spirit. The scene in which Cheney 'suggests' to Bush how to redefine the role of the VP is terrifyingly real.
There is plenty to observe as we wander through the corridors of power watching how Cheney finds his way by doing what he is told, keeps his mouth shut and is loyal. The relationship with Rumsfeld is vital. Cheney's passion for fly-fishing holds him in good stead: patience is required for his climb to the dizzy heights of power. Everything is open to interpretation: torture, privacy, war. How to find an opportunity on 9/11: the darkest day in US history.
The mystery about who is telling the story is darned clever; there are clues as the film plays out but you will need to wait until close to the end of the film to discover whom it is. The power of McKay's cutting satire should not be underrated - don't be surprised if you look at the world differently after seeing this film.
Review by Andrew L. Urban: Full of bold cinematic ideas, Vice has a personality of its own, quite distinct from but complimentary to the character (Jesse Plemons) who provides some narration for the film, as well as a body part ... but let's leave that bit for you to discover. The personality is introduced even before the opening titles, in a note that explains how the filmmakers tried really hard to get the facts but their subject, Dick Cheney, is the most secretive leader ... ever. But they put it more forcefully.
That tone continues, with all sorts of tricks, ranging from fly fishing metaphors (neatly used in the design of the closing credits) to the habit of jump cuts to black, inserts of archival footage and other images to say more than a thousand words. It's a hectic, forward moving if backward looking work, a black comedy that becomes self referential at the end in a bid to disarm conservative (and Republican) critics who might label it as pushing a 'Liberal' point of view.
That's all fine and clever, but they do make one big error in this fictional scene, having a right wing member of the focus group (on whom we spy) instigate a bit of personal violence against the Liberal guy defending the film's factual basis. From recent observation, it is more likely that the Liberal would instigate the violence ... but that would be doing self harm to the Liberals. Anyway, it's still a funny scene.
But you didn't come here to have me prattle on about those things: you want to hear how well Christian Bale gets inside the skin of his character, Vice President Dick Cheney - and how well Sam Rockwell inhabits President George W. Bush.
Have no fear, they are both formidable, Bale using facial mannerisms (watch his mouth) to articulate a man who gets used to power and its benefits and Rockwell playing Bush as superficial and flakey young man of little consequence.
Amy Adams has a great role as Cheney's wife Lynne, and a personality in her own right, while Steve Carrell portrays Donald Rumsfeld as a combination of arsehole and Washington operator. Or is that the same thing...
There is probably too much info stuffed into this film, bulging at 132 minutes, but you can let some of the dialogue wash over you at times and let the images and the music ooze into your senses, senses that have been opened by the crafty writer/director Adam McKay.