Adam McKay is a filmmaker who likes gimmicks. They worked well for him in silly popular comedies such as 2004’s “Anchorman: The Legend of Ron Burgundy” and 2006’s “Talladega Nights: The Ballad of Ricky Bobby”.
For a more serious movie such as 2015’s Oscar-winning “The Big Short”, about the abuses in the US mortgage market, McKay employed different kinds of gimmicks, including breaking down the fourth wall and such.
Narrated by Kurt (Jesse Plemons), whose significance is revealed late in the film, “Vice” (Annapurna) is another story altogether – in more ways than one. While the “The Big Short” was about a painful subject, it was also enlightening and brought about the potential for healing. “Vice”, on the other hand, is as true a story as it can be given former Vice President Dick Cheney’s secretive history. Add to that the fact that he was, and probably still is, one of the most unlikeable and unsympathetic characters in modern American history, and you have to wonder who will be going to see this movie. If it’s his small number of devotees, they’ll probably be surprised that this is far from a loving portrait of the man.
As some of us have guessed (and even witnessed), on the morning of September 11, 2001, it was Cheney (played with several extra pounds by Christian Bale) who was in control, as confusion, fear and uncertainty plagued the White House. He saw an opportunity from which he could benefit, and that’s how a monotone bureaucratic Vice President came to power, forever changing the course of history.
The earliest representation of Cheney is in 1963, when he’s in his early 20s. He’s engaged to Lynn (a severe Amy Adams) who is getting straight As in college whereas Dick, a hard-drinking, smoking ne’er do well, got kicked out of Yale. He’s been arrested for DUI twice and Lynn, who’s upset and doesn’t want to have a bad marriage like her parents had, gives him an ultimatum. He promises not to disappoint her again.
In 1968, Cheney is enrolled in the congressional internship program, where he hears Donald “Rummy” Rumsfeld (Steve Carell) speak, and the rest, as they say, is history. Rumsfeld, who takes Cheney under his wing, wants his lackey to keep his mouth shut, do what he’s told and always be loyal. So, the so-so student and mediocre athlete, became a dedicated and humble servant to power. We follow Cheney in and out of the Nixon white house, as he becomes a political consultant and DC insider with wild and extreme ideas.
All the while he strives to be a decent and loving family man and a devoted father to his young daughters, Liz and Mary, who grow up to be dedicated to him. We witness his ongoing struggles with health (heart) issues, which is odd for someone who prided himself on being heartless. As it turns out, it’s Cheney’s love of his daughters, particularly lesbian Mary (Allison Pill), that prevents him from seeking the Presidency. It’s that relationship with his daughters, as well as the one with Lynn, in which we see him at his most human (or whatever you want to call it).
Nevertheless, the unapologetic Cheney who profited from war, tax cuts for the rich, the rise of Fox News, and the implementation of the Unitary Executive (look it up!), remains as abhorrent as ever. But that was probably writer/director McKay’s goal from the start.