A few years ago, when director Adam McKay announced his star studded drama about the financial crisis I was super intrigued. It was a change of direction for this hilarious writer/director who had brought us such genius comedic feasts as Talladega Nights, Anchorman and perhaps my favourite comedy of all time The Other Guys – the latter suggesting that McKay could pull off a comedy with a slightly grittier aesthetic than was seen in his previous films.
Usually the idea of sitting through a movie about anything to do with financial related issues doesn’t interest me in the slightest. Similarly a film about ex-vice President Dick Cheney wouldn’t usually necessarily have me rushing to the cinema, however McKay proved with The Big Short that he has the craft required to make these topics engaging, entertaining, well-explained and hilarious whilst never watering or dumbing down the content or talking down to his audience. Vice absolutely followed suit.
Vice follows Cheney (Christian Bale) from the early stages of his trouble making, alcohol fueled late teens/early 20s and his relationship with his soon-to-be wife Lynne (Amy Adams). We see the factors that fueled his early years through his barely achieved education and his journey into politics. From an acting perspective the film is more or less untouchable. Bale’s performance (as with every performance from the Welsh method actor) is absolutely pitch perfect. He fully encompasses every single aspect of the man and performs the role with such commitment and talent that at times (thanks to some excellent prosthetics) I forgot that it was Bale at all.
Perfectly accompanied once more by the always exceptional Amy Adams, who brings a complexity and strength to his almost ‘Lady Macbeth’ type wife who is an absolute force to be reckoned with. Steve Carell further proves his serious acting chops as the hilariously absurd Donald Rumsfeld and the incredibly underrated Sam Rockwell almost steals the show with his portrayal of George Bush Jr. – a role that could very easily fall into parody if not played with the precision that Rockwell delivers.
What unfolds is a tour-de-force of acting performances that tells the story of what really went on/goes on in American politics behind the scenes and some extremely believable portrayals of the American powers that be. We witness how these leaders reacted and responded to some of the biggest events in America’s recent history – from Bush and his unlikely rise to power to September 11th, the war in Iraq, the creation of ISIS and the introduction of Osama Bin Laden. McKay’s script is superb. It always feels honest no matter how ridiculous it seems. I never found myself questioning the integrity behind the story being presented – in fact it almost felt like a documentary at times in the way McKay’s direction seamlessly blended the acting with real footage.
Vice also took the time (via narration in a similar style as was used in The Big Short) to break the 4th wall and explain things to us further. Despite this mesh of conventions the film never felt laboured and the use of comedy throughout was hilarious and never felt forced. The message and point of view that McKay has towards the state of American politics and the type of people that Cheney and his cronies are is not a subtle one, however it never feels like we are being preached at or brainwashed – quite the opposite – we are being entertained and educated with the perfect balance that only an accomplished filmmaker can achieve.
Overall this is an exceptional film. Equal parts hilarious, horrifying, truthful, brave and entertaining. If this doesn’t reel in the Oscars for every facet of film-making I will be incredibly surprised. A must see whether you are a fan of American politics or not. This is a comedy/drama of the highest caliber.
– Ashton Brown