One of the stranger cinematic career developments is Adam McKay's emergence as a multiple Oscar-nominated director. Previously responsible for the fabulous comedies Anchorman, Step Brothers and The Other Guys, he produced the brilliant, rage-inducing The Big Short, and thus made his next foray into political cinema with a film I was eager to watch.
Vice chronicles Dick Cheney's rise from a bumbling drunk through US right-wing politics to the mantle of Vice President. In that time he reshaped the presidency, extracting huge powers for himself and setting terrifying precedents for the world we find ourselves in today.
By now you will have seen pictures and clips of Christian Bale's remarkable (latex assisted) transformation to play Cheney. The one-time Batman completely changes his physicality for the role, successful managing to emulate the politician's distinctive way of speaking. It is a brilliant performance in a career filled with them, and has been rightfully lauded. And yet what is remarkable about Vice is the sheer amount of talent that feels wasted. Outside of Bale, few of the actors manage to break through. Early on Amy Adams impresses as Cheney's wife, whilst Alison Pill has a touching story line as his daughter, whose sexual orientation proves a potential liability. But scene after scene passes where the usually impressive talents of Steve Carell, Sam Rockwell and Eddie Marsan, to name a few, go unused. It is one of the numerous frustrating qualities of McKay's film.
Vice frustratingly straddles being a respectful biopic and a gripping expose of political crimes committed behind closed doors. It satisfies as neither. As a biopic, rarely does it feel like Cheney's life is worthy of such attention. Occasional narrative strands burst into view, before slinking back into the background. And as an expose, it feels simultaneously too sprawling and too narrow. A political life like Cheney's sees so many political scandals that Vice can only offer the broad strokes. This makes it ineffective as an expose. What made The Big Short so compelling was its ability to package complicated banking practices into digestible chunks, leaving audiences with a clear sense of what to be angry about. Vice doesn't manage this, and its anger feels devoid of direction. This isn't helped by McKay's hyperactive style that has worked so well in the past, but here feels flippant and misjudged.
I couldn't help but find Vice a frustrating cinematic experience. There is so much content that, at times, the film rushes through proceedings, acting like a Wikipedia entry. The Bush presidency feels like a point where the film should focus, looking at the terrible actions taken by Cheney as VP. And yet McKay takes on too much, so that the only thing that truly breaks through is further evidence of how brilliant an actor Christian Bale is.