There’s a mid-credits scene in Vice that writer/director Adam McKay deliberately uses to get out in front of those who will say his new politically polarizing film is nothing but biased propaganda. In the scene, a member of a focus group questions the film for being biased, in which another member retorts that it’s based on facts. This eventually leads the ignorant redneck to start a fist-fight. The scene represents everything that’s wrong with American politics today, and by placing it in the film at all validates the fact that McKay is well-aware of his own personal bias — and doesn’t care. A quarter of the audience will love the film for putting a knife into former Vice President Dick Cheney (Christian Bale), another quarter will hate it for the same reason. It’s the middle half, of which I believe I am a part, that will feel as though, even if the film is based on fact, nothing portrayed can be believed because it’s been tainted by McKay’s obvious preconceptions.
The entire cast in Vice is terrific, especially a nearly unrecognizable Bale, who hits every nuance of the former Vice President, from the cadence in his voice to his awkward mannerisms. Sam Rockwell delivers yet another fine performance as President George W. Bush, portraying him as a real person as opposed to the dim-bulb caricature most people have come to know. Yes, McKay makes sure to point out that Bush is a little slow on the uptake in most matters of state, but he refrains from making fun of it; he simply uses it as a doorway into how Cheney could get away with so much as VP.
I don’t know enough about the behind-the-scenes goings-on of the Bush/Cheney presidency to know how close to the truth the film comes, but in no way am I defending either party for what happened during this Presidency, nor for the corruption that has infiltrated government over the last forty years. What makes Vice seem so dishonest is in how far left-wing it feels. For the most part, McKay paints all Republicans, no matter how far right or center they may be, as corrupt, racist, homophobic, liars who want to see the country destroyed for their own personal gain, and all Democrats as incorruptible saints, saving the world from these nasty, evil, corporate thugs. As much as I couldn’t care less about Cheney and what this movie claims he did (stuff I have no doubt is true), this divisive thinking just isn’t the case.
Democrats can be as corruptible, racist, homophobic liars as Republicans, but McKay steers clear of that idea in order to paint the nastiest portrait he can of someone he clearly despises. One scene depicts Liz Cheney’s (Lily Rabe) run for a congressional seat. In order to ease the minds of her constituents and win the election, she goes on record as being against gay marriage, despite supporting her lesbian sister’s (Alison Pill) marriage. The point is to show that Dick Cheney will go to any lengths to keep his family in power, but by involving his daughter, it makes it feel Republicans are the only ones who will lie to get elected, which simply isn’t true. Every politician tells the people what they want to hear for no other reason than to win; it’s not just relegated to one party or another, no matter how much McKay may wish it were.
Fact: Dick Cheney was hungry for power, but didn’t want all of the checks and balances that come with the Presidency to get in his way. By becoming Vice President and, for lack of a better word, duping President Bush into allowing him to oversee the “mundane” offices like energy, the FDA and the military, Cheney was able to secure a foothold in areas he should never have had control over and utilize it for his own benefit, including the rise in stock his former company, Halliburton, saw when he was able to help manipulate war strategy after 9/11.
There’s a good, strong movie in that description, however, the story is so diluted by anger and bias, it’s hard to truly capture the reality of it. Most of this is skipped over or only mentioned briefly so that McKay can use his platform to attack and undermine the likes of Roger Ailes (Kyle S. More) and Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia (Matthew Jacobs). Did they have something to do with Cheney’s rise to power? Maybe, but instead of looking at these events objectively, we’re saddled with a one-sided attack, as if the rise of Fox News and Justice Scalia’s seat on the Supreme Court were the only reasons President Bush won the election. But what about the other side? There had to be more to this story on the opposing side that helped in this win as well, things that are completely overlooked to focus on hatred that has fueled politics for the betterment of twenty years.
Do I believe Cheney was a good person? No, but I don’t know him outside of how the media portrays him. There is a lot of things that President Bush and Vice President Cheney did that I am not a fan of, including No Child Left Behind. But, everything they did that aimed to hurt the American people and line the pockets of the politicians can be undone at any time. Have they? Some things have and some things haven’t, but both parties have had a chance and did nothing, which means, as far as I’m concerned, all politicians are as guilty as those who first enacted them.
Beyond all of that, the film has a messy style that can’t seem to find a consistent footing. It begins with editing that seems all over the place. McKay then adds a lot of the same tricks he used in his last political film, The Big Short, a movie I found very compelling and inciteful, mostly because it didn’t focus on or have a strong preconception toward anyone in particular. It simply laid out the facts and gave us a (almost) complete picture of what happened during the housing crisis that led to the stock market crash in 2007. A lot of greedy men found a way to work the system and reap the rewards of hurting the average American.
I like the style (in fact, I utilize a lot of the same techniques in my upcoming novel), including a fun moment when Bale and Amy Adams (as Cheney’s loving, supportive wife, Lynne) break into Shakespearean soliloquies because there’s no way to know what they actually said in a pivotal discussion. However, most of the meta cleverness doesn’t work as well in Vice, as they feel like stale tricks rather than supportive assets. In The Big Short, they were utilized to enhance the brazen audacity of what those people did. In Vice, the events are used in a more vitriolic way, making fun of and lambasting one individual in particular, thus making it feel dirty, misleading or downright deceitful.
Yes, former Vice President Dick Cheney may have led his life by selfish reasons, ones we may never truly understand, and Bale does a fantastic job of trying to create a full picture of this man. But it’s all tainted by the anger and contempt of the man behind the camera, so there’s no clear line as to where truth ends and bias begins. By feeding the hate rather than trying to understand it, the topic and the performances are swallowed by opinion and judgment. Until McKay paints a similar portrait of someone like Hillary Clinton, it’ll be hard to see him, or this film, as anything but a hypocritical liberal without the ability of logical, unbiased reasoning.
My Grade: C
Jennifer Lopez and director Peter Segal don’t try to deliver anything new in Second Act, a film that feels so familiar, it’s hard to find a connection to everything that is good about it, such as Lopez’s chemistry with Leah Remini and the sweet nature of the relationships that carry the film to the finish line. B+
Unlike a lot of people, I liked the majority of the Transformers films, succumbing to the childish antics that overwhelmed the back half of the franchise, however, it’s easy to feel a bit of nostalgia for Bumblebee, a film that not only takes us back to what made the first film a terrific action flick, but raising the bar on what everything that followed could have been had they grounded themselves a little more and let the premise do the talking. A
Next week, new movies include Escape Room. If you would like to see a review of this, or any other film out next week, please respond in the comments below.