Updated: Monday, 6th April 2020 @ 8:41am

Review: Vice @ Cineworld, Didsbury

Review: Vice @ Cineworld, Didsbury

| By James Moules

George W. Bush (Sam Rockwell) invites Dick Cheney (Christian Bale) to a meeting to ask him the big question of the day: would he be his running mate for the 2000 presidential election.

Cheney appears to consider the proposal, yet everyone but the dim-witted Bush Jr. can see his response is clearly calculated.

“I’m a CEO of a large company, and I have been Secretary of Defence, and I have been White House Chief of Staff – the Vice Presidency is a mostly symbolic job.

“However, if we came to a different understanding…”

It is no secret that the presidency of George W. Bush was the presidency of Dick Cheney in all but name. The truism goes that Bush was the charming but brainless figurehead while Cheney was the scheming puppet master.

It therefore makes perfect sense that director Adam McKay (Anchorman, The Big Short) should choose to tell the tale of those turbulent eight years from the point of view of the Vice President.

Yet Vice does not start with Cheney as a figure of great authority, but as a drunken college dropout with few prospects. With the influence of his wife Lynne (Amy Adams), he turns his life around and slowly, quietly works his way towards power.

The film positions itself as a savage critique of his tenure, seeking to dramatise and satirise, both make you laugh and make you angry.

McKay’s previous film The Big Short, for all its many flaws, did succeed in navigating through these tonal shifts with relative ease.

With Vice, he is somewhat less successful. The Big Short’s eccentric style served to present a dry subject in a colourful manner.

Applying a similar approach to such inherently emotive subjects like 9/11 and the War of Terror leads to Vice seeming a little over-directed.

Christian Bale is well-known for his physical dedication to his performances, and his work in Vice is no exception.

His transformation throughout the course of the film does not disappoint, as we see Cheney become steadily more ruthless as his waistline expands and hairline retreats. The intensity he brings to the role helps anchor the film at its more wacky and inconsistent moments.

Steve Carrell also delivers strong work as Cheney’s bombastic and confrontational mentor Donald Rumsfeld.

Against a lesser actor, he would risk stealing the show from Cheney, but Bale successfully counterbalances Carrell’s flamboyance with his constrained presence.

Amy Adams, on the other hand, is tragically underused as Lynne Cheney. She is given her fifteen minutes in the spotlight campaigning for Dick’s congressional bid in Wyoming – making up for his chronic lack of people skills – but instead of being a compelling character in her own right, she is largely overshadowed by the men of the show.

What is equally frustrating with Vice is its hasty coverage of many of the key controversies of the Bush presidency, often favouring a more hagiographical approach to the narrative.

Yes, we all know the amoral actions of the administration – the lies about weapons of mass destruction in Iraq, the rampant use of torture, the expansion of the surveillance state.

But when further exploration of this comes at the expense of Cheney’s biography, one can’t help by feel that Vice missed numerous opportunities to be more incisive.

That being said, Vice is never boring. In spite of its numerous shortcomings, it is a funny and offbeat take on a heavy subject that may interest viewers unfamiliar with the inner workings of Cheney’s administration.

There is likely a better film to be made down the line about the Bush presidency, but Vice will do for now.