The Big Short was my favorite film of 2015. I was ecstatic when Vice was announced as a re-teaming of director and actors. Vice tells the story of vice president Dick Cheney. It recounts his time in office and the decisions that helped shape the political landscape to what it is today. Despite having many redeeming qualities, I found the film lacking and came away underwhelmed and disappointed.
Vice starts off well enough and gives you Dick Cheney’s backstory and how he progressed up the political ladder. Unfortunately, the film never lets you into his head. What was this man thinking? What made him tick? We also rarely get to see him do anything remarkable or praiseworthy in his duties that fuels the acceleration of his career. We’re just asked to assume that “this man knew how to navigate the political landscape” and go with it. This would be fine if this was a small subplot in a larger film, but not when it’s the films focus. There were likely plenty of cinematic liberties taken in the telling of this story. It wouldn’t have hurt to take a few more and add some depth to the main character.
Christian Bale transforms into Dick Cheney and offers another memorable performance. But do we expect any different from him? His physical transformation, body language, accent and expressions are all superb. However, even his superlative acting skill cannot compensate for weak writing and truly turn Dick Cheney into a fleshed out three-dimensional character. Amy Adams is the only other cast member to make an impression as his wife Lynn Cheney. She has an early scene that’s an absolute delight. Steve Carell does the best he can with his character. Sam Rockwell’s George Bush comes off more as a parody than a real character.
The film moves along at a steady pace, and at least the first half is consistently entertaining. The second half has some unengaging portions. The film uses a clever narration framing device and has a lot of Adam McKay’s signature tropes that make it unique in the manner it tells its story. However, a lot of these are overdone and what was amusing in The Big Short becomes distracting here. The film also feels over edited and overstuffed. At one point I was hoping to just see well written dialogue between characters play out without any narration, freeze frames, flashbacks or needless insertions. Some of the unconventional stylistic and narrative choices feel bold, unique and are fun. Unfortunately, a lot of them feel needless and distract from the plot and rob scenes of their momentum.
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Vice is a showcase for some fine acting, has a few truly inventive moments and is entertaining for the most part. I may even go as far as to say, that taken with a grain of salt, even educational. Unfortunately, it’s overstuffed on style and lacking in substance. It doesn’t get under its subjects’ skin and seems to offer overly simplistic explanations for all that is deemed wrong in our current political landscape. Go in with no expectations and you may not come away totally disappointed.