Will Sorg – Entertainment Writer
The first thing I learned about Dick Cheney was that he was often compared to Darth Vader. My father had a book written by journalist Matt Labash called Fly Fishing With Darth Vader. On the cover of this book is a series of 2010s cultural figures drawn in a caricature-like style. The cover includes Arnold Schwarzenegger, Reverend Al Sharpton, and then-real estate mogul Donald Trump. In the center of the cover stands Dick Cheney in a grotesque, comical drawing of one of the most feared and reviled men of the 21st century.
Adam Mckay’s Vice is a lot like that book cover- bizarre, grotesque, and nearly cartoonish at points. It is determined to allude to the modern political landscape that has been dominated by Donald Trump’s influence and certainly willing to portray Cheney as the Star Wars antagonist he has often been compared to. Mckay is determined to make you pay attention to his film. He wants his audience to understand how the former vice president ended up irreparably changing the United States and the world forever.
In order to accomplish this, the writer/director and his team paint a portrait of the ever-changing- but always hostile- world of American politics and Cheney’s progression from a college dropout to the most powerful man in the world to a man who rebranded policies that only benefited the rich and the powerful into something that average people would defend to a fault. Christian Bale’s portrayal of the harbinger of The War on Terror gives the film a great deal of pathos as his scarily accurate interpretation of Cheney allows the audience to better understand him. His nuance and superb execution allows for easier insight into how and why the vice president was able to change (and in some cases, end) the lives of so many people. Of course, much like Cheney himself is not simply a bad man with no nuance, Vice is not just a good movie with no flaws.
I am a self-professed critic of Adam Mckay. I certainly think he has talent as a filmmaker, but I often find his decisions on how to use those talents to be questionable at best. As a writer, I find his writing style to be either extremely heavy-handed or unnecessarily mean-spirited. This film is no different; it is an anger piece about how Adam Mckay saw Cheney ruining our country for years and how the audience should feel stupid for not realizing it sooner. At multiple points he openly mocks his audience for “paying attention to vapid entertainment” rather than focusing on the terrible things our government has been doing for decades. This is, of course, a bit ironic as Mckay himself spent the entirety of the Bush administration making Will Ferrell comedies- exactly the sort of things he derides his viewers for watching.
Consistently throughout the film Mckay will treat his audience as though they are complete idiots, literally pausing the film to have the narrator give a presentation on unilateral presidential power or some other concept that can be quite easily understood by simply allowing us to listen to the characters talk about it. This is not helped by the editing, which is as heavy-handed as the writing. From obnoxious title cards to disorienting scene rhythms, the editing adds almost nothing to the film and only serves to confuse and annoy the viewer. I found myself being confused as to whether something was a flashback, a flashforward, or if it was even in the same scene. All of this takes a film with a huge plethora of amazing aspects and dilutes it into a film that I will definitely think about often, but I will probably never want to watch again.