REVIEW: “Vice” (2018)

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Adam McKay’s makeup and costume dramedy “Vice” is quite the movie to unpack. With its double-edged title and full lather of political messaging, “Vice” resembles a progressive manifesto more than a stinging satire or credible biographical sketch. And McKay comes across as the political left’s version of Dinesh D’Souza but with a bigger budget and an attention-grabbing cast.

Now I am all for filmmakers having their own voices and relaying their own messages. It’s one of the things that makes cinema great. But when that message is used like a blunt weapon you can end up with the exhausting mess that is “Vice”. It is a frustratingly schizophrenic movie, bouncing around from scene to scene with no sense of focus. Good luck figuring out what McKay wants his film to be.

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The game plan for the story was pretty simple – portray Dick Cheney to be the devil incarnate and use every single frame and every line of dialogue to do so. But in doing so, McKay ends up giving us someone who more closely resembles an 80’s Saturday morning cartoon villain than a character with any real human qualities. It’s a shame because Christian Bale’s stunning transformative performance deserves the critical acclaim it has received.

Storywise “Vice” makes the same mistake you often see in these types of movies – it tries to cover way too much ground. It starts with Cheney’s early days as a drunken “dirtbag” and then moves to his marriage to Lynne (a very good Amy Adams). It then meanders through six different presidencies showing Cheney’s various political roles in his (as McKay presents it) quest for power. Of course then there are the Bush years and Cheney’s time as VP and alleged puppet master.

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And to bog things down even more why not wedge in as many conservative stalwarts as you can – Roger Ailes, Antonin Scalia, Karl Rove, Rush Limbaugh, the Koch brothers, and that just scratches the surface. There is plenty you could say about some of these people, but they aren’t here to enrich the story. They are simply targets of McKay’s detestation both for them and Dick Cheney.

Oh, and after all of that, if somehow you didn’t get McKay’s blaring point that Chaney is pure evil in human form, you get a final 20 minutes where the director starts throwing as much as he can at the screen – Valerie Plame, the infamous hunting incident, and more. It all feels tacked on, as if he ran out of time but still didn’t know when to quit jabbing.

McKay’s structural choices aren’t much better. The story is jolted by several weird time jumps as well as out-of-the-blue attempts at humor that mostly land with a thud (apparently Cheney’s heart attacks are quite a gas). There is also an assortment of ham-fisted, on-the-nose imagery much of which probably looked better on paper than it does on the screen. But worst of all is this bizarre Jesse Plemons narration that plays out in the dopiest way imaginable.

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Sam Rockwell is fun as George W. Bush but he’s not much help. His scenes are more like sketch-comedy bits than a meaningful movie role. Steve Carell comes off even worse. He plays Donald Rumsfeld as if he was doing an episode of “The Office” or another “Anchorman” sequel. Ultimately you end up clinging to Bale and Adams who give standout performances but can’t save the film from its plethora of flaws and miscalculations.

“Vice” is one big frustration especially considering the tons of potential it wastes. It’s a textbook example of how bad things can go when you have such rotten tone management and a dogged fixation on your message that smothers your storytelling and character building. To no surprise there has proven to be an audience for this slog. I can confidently say I’m not a part of it.

VERDICT 1.5 STARS

1-5-stars

29 thoughts on “REVIEW: “Vice” (2018)

  1. Liked it for the most part but not without reservations. Count me in the camp of people who truly enjoyed The Big Short. This feels more scattered and I don’t think the same method/direction of storytelling was needed for this movie. Love the performances though, outside of Rockwell which is SNL-like.

    Honestly, I’m awaiting your Golden Globes takeaway post because THAT was bizarre.

    • Save your money. Wait for TV. This thing is a slog. Bale is amazing and Adams is very good, but past that there is nothing worth hanging on to. McKay really loses his grip here. I understand why many critics are pushing back on the film, but I didn’t expect to dislike it as much as I did.

    • Oh Cindy, this is such a draining movie. There is soooo much potential but McKay fumbles all through it. I’m stunned it’s actually received several big Screenplay awards nominations.

  2. I actually liked it more than I thought I would – but I will also say I went into it with a “satire” mentality and didn’t expect to get much out of it. I did really enjoy Bale’s acting and Sam Rockwell’s too. I would say that the Big Short is better, but I still enjoyed this one for what it was.

  3. I’m so bummed you didn’t like it, though I knew you didn’t before reading this. I actually really liked the structure, I laughed my ass off at that fake out he did with the credits in the middle of this film. I can see why this is dividing a lot of people though.

    • Oh that fake-out didn’t do much for me. It was a little too obvious for me and I felt it was another instance of the movie’s tone being all over the map.

    • I’m with you on “The Big Short”. I kinda liked it (how’s that for a ringing endorsement 😂). As for “Vice”, I wouldn’t consider it a particularly valid source for learning about this controversial guy. McKay seems much more consumed with his own personal animus and how it fuels his politics. It literally consumes this movie, its story, and its characters.

  4. Just a friendly correction, Sam Rockwell plays George W Bush but u have him as George H. W. Bush. Innocent mistake, and I’m sure to no one it makes much of a difference.

    I am in the same boat man, I found this movie to be pretty obnoxious. And in ways beyond what was intended. I really was put off by the overt heart metaphor, my goodness. Though that scene at the restaurant where Alfred Molina offers up all the different executive powers via menu choices, that device was highly effective. But the majority of the film is, as you perfectly described, schizophrenic!

    • Oh thank you for that! Truly appreciate it. About to fix it now!

      Glad I’m not alone on this thing. So much of it was ridiculously on-the-nose. The cold, black heart thing was so lame and ineffective. I found it to be so exhausting. You’re right though, Alfred Molina…ALWAYS great.

      • Yeah no worries. I had to google that to be sure myself – those middle initials are tricky, yet make a difference! It was profound how much America was in mourning with the passing of HW. Will his son be missed in the same way, im not so sure. Maybe that’s cruel to say, but tje thing i will say about Vice is that i really didn’t know just how much of a puppet master Cheney really was. Sure, we can argue about the validity of McKay’s “fact-based” account, the truths he includes or omits, but man. I truly have been ignorant to Cheney as the mastermind of the Iraq war. So i guess i can’t say i didnt learn anything from the movie. The important part is what viewers are willing to just accept as gospel and what they are going to research on their own. The scary thing today is this rush to judgment and an unwillingness to leave the echo chambers of social media sites and what have you. Vice is an angry film, the emotions are a large part of the experience. That’s fine. But i do think the way he put it all together is distracting. For me, I ended up spending more time, far more time, figuring out how he made the movie rather than what information he was disseminating.

      • Great thoughts. The problem I had was that so much of McKay’s perspective on Cheney comes from conspiracy theories and unsubstantiated ‘facts’. But it feeds into this unbridled personal animus he has. The thing is there’s plenty about Cheney to critique without clogging up your movie with every possible speculation you can find. Again, it ended making Cheney into a cartoon villain that I couldn’t take seriously. And it all wastes such a strong cast. Ughhhh

    • It really drove me crazy. Bale is really good under all the makeup and prosthetics. The material is just bad. It’s a mess and I’m really surprised that it’s getting so much awards attention.

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