“Vice" is a sprawling and satirical look into the evil psyche of Dick Cheney [Review]

Image result for vice mckay

Forget about the physical transformation that Christian Bale had to endure to become Dick Cheney in Adam McKay's "Vice," Yes, the 44-year-old Welsh actor gained 40 pounds to play Dubya's evil-doing Vice Prez, we expect that from the legendary Welsh method actor. No, this role turns out to be not just an impersonation, but a genetic inheritance, a cloning, if you will. Bale carries McKay's film with a towering performance that will be talked about for ages.

The film is a satirical farce, a sarcastic but deadly-truthful depiction of the most evil man to ever occupy the White House and, yet, he wasn't even President. From his early college drinking days to his inevitable rise as the most powerful man of the country, McKay uses every stylistic trick in the book to make his movie sting. Stylistically, the film is all over the map; using narration (courtesy of Jesse Plemons), back and fast-forwarding, a phony ending, fourth-wall breaking, double-backing and just zig-zaggings around any conventions it deems worthy of breaking. "Vice," in other words, is a breath of fresh air. 

The cavalcade of conservative politicians that surrounded Cheney are on full display here: Amy Adams plays Lynne Cheney, Dick's wife, as a straight-laced Southern dame, but one with no less of a craving for power as her beaux; Steve Carrel is Donald Rumsfeld, in a performance that capture's the demented sense of humor of the former Secretary of Defense; Sam Rockwell plays dim-witted George W. Bush to a tee -- and this is no time for McKay to sugarcoat the role of the 41st President as being anything but a clownish, naive and aloof individual. The film shows Cheney seeing an opening in Dubya's low-IQ, and using him as his puppet to get what he wants in a more-controlling and freedom-shackled government. To say Bush comes off as anything but a clownish figure in "Vice" would be an understatement. 

This is the movie we need right now. In today's Trump-dominated stratosphere, Bush and Cheney's war crimes have all but been forgotten by the masses, which is infuriating. The Bush presidency, which lasted between 2000-2008, was the most disastrous administration the White House had ever seen, exceeding Nixon's corrupt Presidency. Why? Well, for many reasons, and McKay tackles the crux of it in "Vice" -- especially the lying, oh the lying, and so much of it, concocted by an administration tthat found a way to convince the masses that it was alright to go on a full-scaled war against Saddam Hussein in Iraq. McKay claims, rightfully so, that it was spearheaded by Cheney's abuse of power.

In their first meeting, at Bush's Texan ranch, we see Cheney being a little hesitant in taking up Dubya's Vice Presidential offer, -- Lynne even reminds her husband, in a later scene, just how powerless a Vice-President can be within an administration. Cheney tells Bush he doesn't want the job but will help him find the right man. And then, eureka, he and lawyer David Harrington find a loophole within the constitution: The Unitary Executive Theory. This, mostly unused, law states that "that all executive authority must be in the President’s hands, without exception" and that Presidential power could "be unilateral, and unchecked." It was barely used before Bush came into power, but he pounces on the opportunity to have so much hidden power in government. The Bush offer all of a sudden becomes one Cheney  just can't refuse.

Suffice to say, the resulting 8-year Presidency turns out to be a catastrophe. The film depicts the way Cheney found a way to brainwash his way to the American people and make them believe that not only did Saddam Hussein have WMDs, but that the Iraqi dictator also had something to do with 9/11 (70% of the American public believed that). This was all propagated by a herd-like media to manipulate the American people into going along with the Bush/Cheney narrative. Cheney made sure he found a way to lay the message across to journalists that Saddam was a danger to the world, even if he wasn't. 

If you haven't noticed by now, McKay lays it down loud and thick in "Vice" and that will surely anger fans of the Bush Presidency, I'm sure there still are a few them left, no? His film will also turn-off those looking for any kind of subtlety or nuance in their political cinema. This is very much a film that endears to its over-the-topness. The result is fascinating mess of a film, with exuberantly delivered performances, a top-notch, know-it-all screenplay and the same kind of stylish direction that McKay brought to "The Big Short."

"Vice" is convinced by a theory that has long been gestated as being accurate: that the power behind Dubya’s throne was Cheney. This is, in fact, the first major studio film to depict the scheming trappings of the Vice-President. Oliver Stone's "W" concentrated most of its time on Bush and barely gave Cheney the time of day. And so, what McKay has created here is a film that years from now will be seen as an important historical document of the Bush era. The series of events being depicted in "Vice," although not all confirmed, have been thoroughly researched and can be deemed as being, more or less, an accurate depiction of what happened. McKay has made a film about a time which will resonate in the history books as one of the darkest passages in American history. [B+]