‘Vice’ review: Totally unsubtle, probably unneeded, but deeply entertaining
After years of watching films, I have come to learn that if the main selling point of a film is the number of pounds an actor lost or gained to play a part, it’s probably not as good as you’d like it to be. Adam McKay’s Vice, without too much surprise, is one messy piece of filmmaking but in such a way that it becomes almost fascinating. You know that what you’re watching isn’t good, and yet it’s impossible to look away.
What would compel a man to wake up one day and think of making a Dick Cheney biopic that is somehow both comedy that acts like it doesn’t really care and something that takes itself extremely seriously ? Much of the film does feel like it was born out of a fever dream. Constant freeze frames, quirky narration and twists that feel like they could be emotionally manipulative if only the film actually told us at any time that we should care about what we’re seeing… It’s definitely a bizarre, and most of the time even faulty mix. Through most of the runtime, it does feel like a desperate attempt to keep our attention and hide what the script lacks in depth and surprises.
At other times, the sheer contrast between the semi-wacky tone and the depiction of Cheney as a cold, opportunistic shell of a man who’d do anything for power does work in a way that couldn’t have been anticipated. McKay doesn’t delve very much in the psyche of his characters. But although it is a weakness at times, sometimes it ends up playing in the film’s favor. No one asked for yet another film humanizing the U.S. government’s most deplorable acts — and we’re certainly not getting it here. Sometimes people do things for a reason, and sometimes they do it just because they can.
However, these moments where the tone and the content actually make sense together are too isolated for Vice to make sense as a whole. What keeps it from being just a mess the rest of the time are consistently great and committed performances. Christian Bale has gotten plenty of acclaim already, and certainly deserves most of it, but it is the secondary characters that shine the most. Amy Adams is just as great as she usually is, Alison Pill is a touching Mary Cheney, and Steve Carell gets right back on track after the dreadful Welcome To Marwen by giving a really impressive performance as Donald Rumsfeld.
Vice is a fascinating watching experience, as it is always so close to delving into bad movie territory, but somehow there’s always a little something on screen good enough to keep it from doing so. The only scene I’d actually call bad is a truly baffling one that unfolds mid-credits, but since you can just leave the theater before watching it, I don’t really count it as part of the film itself. It has the merit to be unapologetically different from all of its “White evil man biopic clearly aiming for Oscar nomination” predecessors in ways that not many people could have done, or perhaps would have dared to do.
Is Vice a good film ? Maybe not. It’s ridiculous at times, and probably thinks it is way smarter than it actually is. But considering the subject matter, it’s probably the only way it should be.