So The Big Short brought a new edge to comedy, drama, and documentary footage. The main objective was to capture the zeitgeist of each year and every turn of the financial collapse. Naturally, The Big Short was a big success. One of the strongest, most idiosyncratic films of 2015, director and cowriter Adam McKay won an Academy Award for best adapted screenplay with fellow wordsmith Charles Randolph. The collage style allowed McKay and Randolph to shatter confinements, break the fourth wall, leap from style to style, and rebel against being a lecture about a serious subject. The result is an informative film that educated a willing audience as much as it did entertain them.
Vice was obviously an anticipated film after McKay's first foray into more serious, pressing subject matter (not that the legend of Rob Burgundy doesn't matter). McKay worked alone on the screenplay this time, and his tongue is as gritty as ever. Yes, Vice is considerably a comedy, but it is much more vicious than The Big Short. Much of Vice's runtime is actually difficult to stomach. It follows the many dominating events in the life of former vice president of the United States, Dick Cheney. Playing Cheney is a strongly committed Christian Bale, whose domineering portrayal is often the saviour of the film. The cuts, images and sounds are loud, but Cheney is gruffly quiet. Even when he spews commands of hatred, he feels in control. During his final scene of the film, when he is essentially addressing us viewers, you feel his power in your core. Its nearly nauseating. What Bale can do with just a few words and minor tweaking in his expressions is miraculous.
This renders him the anchor of the film, which runs laps around many subject matters (like a frantic assistant checking their list during a last minute protocol). The Big Short managed to find unity in its hysteria. Vice makes a whole series of stern statements, which deceptively feel fine at the time. If you take a step back to analyze the film, you might notice how much of it was twenty essays slammed into one thesis statement. All of these write ups circle Cheney, and Bale's menacing assassin that works silently is what pulls everyone through. These hodgepodge scenes don’t feel bad anymore. Every single idea (from the bizarre to the serious) feels spectacular on their own now. As a whole, the film works when the man of the hour is present (which is the entire time).
His wife Lynn is played by Amy Adams, who gives us yet another stellar performance. She is the vocal punch that Cheney never gives. She projects, glares, and works out in the open (as Cheney prefers to peer from the back by himself). The chemistry between this pairing is so natural; we shouldnt be surprised, since this is not the first time Bale and Adams have worked together (The Fighter, and American Hustle). Along with other strong performances (Steve Carell as Donald Rumsfeld, Tyler Perry as Colin Powell, and, of course, Sam Rockwell as W.), Vice becomes a series of podiums for these compelling caricatures to play, and its sandbox nature -- while detrimental to the film's focus -- allows each and every moment to entertain.
The running storyline of a mysterious character played by Jesse Plemons (a role that won't be spoiled here) is another factor that keeps you invested. What is this man's purpose? Every single image and scene serves a function in Vice, so why is Plemons giving us the skinny every fifteen minutes or so? Once we finally get that answer, it unveils like a twist in a horror film (especially when you take into consideration how Cheney's choices impacted any random civilian like this character prior to this big reveal). It is a bold and clever move that does unite all of Vice's countless pieces together just a little bit more.
Vice is always engaging, but it can occasionally ramble. If you look at the film not as a sequencing of scenes but as one succinct tale, you can maybe see where the problem lies. I actually loved each and every moment of this film, but I can acknowledge them all as moments. The core identity of Vice is missing outside of a potent voice with something to say.
Nonetheless, Vice is still a cinematic trek through a mind battling with the flurry of thoughts on where one should start with when it comes to one of the most controversial figures in political history. As varied as the film is, it is excellent at calling back previous ideas and notions. You compare Cheney and his actions throughout the years, and the impact on these more recent events is clearly felt. This is how power can kill morality. This is how push can turn into greed. Turning a blind eye becomes a willingness to have blood on ones hands for ulterior motives. Everything works, but it wont always work in the smoothest way.
Vice is heavily liberal, and it's a nature that the film even pokes fun at after the initial credits. Its self awareness is the constant apology for the messy table, but, once again, it allows this mess to take place. McKay may have been aware of how spread out all of his points on Cheney were, so his imagination is the final saviour of the day. Naomi Watts is the recognizable news anchor whose name we cannot remember. Fishing baits are turned into controversial political images (as a means of combining all of Cheney's properties as a human being). GIF images that have coasted through Reddit as memes for years make their cinematic debut here. Vice might be all over the place, but it demands your attention the entire time, because it knows how to project each and every tiny point as if they were their own feature length films. At least you can't fault the film for trying to be daring.
Andreas Babiolakis has a Masters degree in Film and Photography Preservation and Collections management from Ryerson University, as well as a Bachelors degree in Cinema Studies from York University. His favourite times of year are the Criterion Collection flash sales and the annual Toronto International Film Festival.