Vice: The Lengths Of Power
Review by Jonathan Pliego
“Vice” is a subtly appropriate title for Adam McKay’s most recent film. On the surface, the film is an introduction to America’s 43rd Vice President Dick Cheney, but on a deeper level, it introduces us to the persona behind the title: a quiet man with his own vices and a thirst for power.
The film tells the story of how bureaucratic Washington insider, Dick Cheney (Christian Bale), quietly became the most powerful man in the world as vice president to George W. Bush (Sam Rockwell), reshaping the country and the globe in ways that we still feel today.
Though it’s not directly addressed in the film, the title also brings to mind VICE News and the true notion of journalism, the kind that’s dedicated to important stories that don’t often get front-page attention, yet have the potential to shape history. In other words, I’m talking about stories that the powers that be would prefer you didn’t know, and in many ways, Vice feels like an unearthing of those tales that other parties would rather keep silent.
We first encounter young Dick out west while he’s throwing back drinks and throwing out punches. There, he’s presented with an ultimatum from his better half (played by Amy Adams), who will leave him if he doesn’t display more responsibility and ambition. This is something that sets the tone for the rest of film: when presented with two options, which one gets Dick what he wants, and what does he actually care about?
Well, we get a sense that Dick cares about his family and power. When those are the two main driving factors in the decision-making process, we also get a sense about how easy it can be for him to screw over people in his quest for more. At one point, Dick’s wife even makes a comment to their daughter to the affect of, “When you have power, people will try to take it away from you.”
I laughed so hard when I heard that, and thought to myself, “No shit,“ as I reflected upon recent voter suppression efforts and other undemocratic fuckery that Republicans have been up to lately. It’s little bits like that comment, which hammer on the historical relevancy, that makes this film so powerful. There’s also the performances from Bale, Rockwell, Adams, Carell, and the rest of the insanely long and immensely talented ensemble cast that make it all the more blistering, potent, and hysterical.
Like his previous film about the 2008 financial crisis, The Big Short, McKay adeptly untangles many historical threads and ties them together to address the question: how did we get here? In Vice, McKay traces the end of fair and balanced reporting with the rise of Fox News (ahem, Roger Ailes), privately-funded public policy think tanks (think Grover Norquist), focus groups gathered for the purpose of churning political spin (see Frank Luntz), and a corporatist agenda funded by billionaires (like the Koch brothers). We also learn about how the Islamic State (ISIS or ISIL) formed in the power vacuum after Operation Iraqi Freedom.
Recommendation: To anyone who wants more insight on the current state of American politics, or any Star Wars fans who want to know whether Dick is Darth Cheney or the Dickemperor, I highly recommend this film.
Rating: 4 out of 5 no-bid defense contracts.
What do you think? Was Vice as entertaining as it was informative? Does Bale deserve an Oscar nod? We want to know. Share your thoughts and feelings in the comments section below, and as always, remember to viddy well.