To best enjoy Vice, you mustn’t consider it a Dick Cheney biopic, but rather a fictional political comedy that uses real-life subjects as its satirical puppets.
Indeed, the audacity of director Adam McKay (The Big Short) doesn’t always pay off, but it effectively preaches to the choir in its proudly unflattering portrayal of George W. Bush’s vice president.
McKay doesn’t use Cheney’s notorious secrecy about his personal life as an excuse, but rather an opportunity. The glib result is a wildly uneven mix of speculation and imagination, with a few facts sprinkled in.
Things mostly begin in 1968, when a young Cheney discovers his political voice as a congressional intern to Illinois representative Donald Rumsfeld (Steve Carell). As Cheney gains clout alongside Rumsfeld, so does his outspoken social-climbing wife, Lynne (Amy Adams).
Flash forward a couple of decades, and Cheney is pursued by Texas governor Bush (Sam Rockwell) to be his running mate. He reluctantly accepts despite sharing Lynne’s sentiment that “the VP just sits around and waits for the president to die.”
From there, McKay employs several twists with real-world ramifications, as he unleashes a potentially dangerous agenda involving the Middle East and more. The film even chronicles Cheney’s history of heart trouble while arguing that perhaps, instead, he had no heart at all.
Bale undergoes a complete physical transformation to play Cheney, capturing his character through more than simply emulating speech and mannerisms.
Both amusing and harrowing, McKay’s mildly pretentious screenplay is not entirely unsympathetic, especially during Cheney’s formative political years. It provides some insight into the influences that shaped his rise to prominence as a conservative Washington insider, even as it sacrifices some key details along the way.
The film theorizes that Cheney lacked the charisma to be president, so he transformed into the ultimate behind-the-scenes manipulator who found the perfect foil in the White House. Cold, calculating, and unapologetic, he also became the ultimate spin doctor and war monger.
For example, one riveting sequence depicts the chaotic aftermath of the Sept. 11 terror attacks, which led to Cheney exploiting constitutional loopholes and patriotic fervor to engineer a power grab driven by fear and paranoia.
As an intriguing overview of the last 50 years of American politics, Vice is ambitious enough to cover most of its flaws, whipping its lefty conspiracy theories into an entertaining package of red meat for its target demographic.