Poster for Vice

“Brainy, audacious, opinionated and fun, Vice is a tonic for troubled times. As smart as it is partisan, and it is plenty partisan, this savage satire is scared of only one thing, and that is being dull. Written and directed by Adam McKay, who won a screenwriting Oscar for the dazzling The Big Short, Vice tackles a subject as unlikely to result in gleeful cinema as the 2008 financial meltdown. That would be a deep dive into the life and times of uncompromisingly uncharismatic former Vice President Dick Cheney, played by Christian Bale.

But, as McKay well knows, the word ‘vice’ is not only a governmental title, it’s the opposite of virtue, and his film doesn’t hesitate to depict the two-time veep as a conniving eminence grise whose eight years in office resulted in some of the most troubling aspects of American political life. Political scientists can argue about the truth of that. The fun of watching Vice is not in having your preconceptions appealed to or assaulted, but in enjoying the rousingly cinematic way the story has been told.

Parallel to his rise in Washington, D.C.’s corridors of influence (and his surviving of multiple heart attacks), Cheney becomes fascinated with something called the unitary executive theory, which posits that presidents have absolute authority. That might make being vice president to a genial George W. Bush (Rockwell’s feet-on-desk portrayal almost steals the picture) seem counterintuitive, but Vice posits that Cheney cannily found a way to effectively become co-president if not something more.

McKay is clearly not averse to taking swings at Cheney for a variety of matters, but what seems to upset him most is something distinctly nonpartisan. That would be the notion, that ‘as the world becomes more and more confusing, we ignore facts that change and shape our lives. When we do have free time, the last thing we want is complicated analysis.’ Unless Americans of all political stripes pay attention to what’s going on, Vice insists, the results will be dire. A very dark warning from a very funny film.

Making it all work as well as it does is committed acting from stars Bale and Amy Adams (Arrival, Big Eyes), as Dick’s spouse Lynne Cheney, as well as an expert supporting cast of some 150 speaking roles highlighted by Steve Carell as Donald Rumsfeld, Sam Rockwell (Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri) as President George W. Bush and a surprising Tyler Perry as Colin Powell.” (Kenneth Turan, Los Angeles Times)

“Bale brilliantly captures the former vice-president’s bland magnificence.” (Peter Bradshaw, The Guardian)

“An acting masterclass that neither pulls its punches nor sacrifices detail to pander to a mass audience, this is smart filmmaking from a director who gets better with every film—and a near career-best from Bale, which is saying something.” (Andrew Lowry, Empire)