Insufferable and Hilarious, the Dick Cheney Biopic Finagles its way as one of the Noted Films of the Year.
DIRECTED BY ADAM MCKAY/2018
Success opens doors. It’s true for anyone, in any field, of any ideology. And, with those doors having been opened, there can also come a certain validation of one’s full self. Greatness, ego, grandiosity… so much freedom, so much fun. Best of all, you get to impose your viewpoints to your heart’s content, and no one can challenge you!
Except that, they can. And will. And do.
(Boy, was that first paragraph a sledge hammer, or what? Yeah we get it- absolute power corrupts, absolutely; thanks. Good thing this italicized aside has taken over, lest you think that this review of the torrid true-life tale of a shadowy divisive political figure be all lecture-y and self-serious. No, don’t get the wrong idea- we’re not like that at all! I mean look… Even now, we’re breaking the forth wall! Because, that’s so crazy!! Keep reading!)
Former U.S. Vice President Dick Cheney, meet filmmaker Adam McKay. Although you might not think so at first, you guys have a lot in common…
Cheney, while serving two terms under President George W. Bush, advanced himself beyond his job description to take all kinds of liberties… sometimes literally. McKay, though lacking the years and political resume of Cheney, did manage to advance himself beyond the job he’s been known for, making Will Ferrell comedy films and co-founding the website “Funny or Die”. He too has been taking great liberties in his field, such as the diatribe on the ruined economy that came out of nowhere at the end of his cop comedy, The Other Guys, or the oh-so-zany fourth wall smashing of The Big Short, itself a more high-minded jam on the ruined economy. And let’s not forget that it turns out that idiot newscaster Ron Burgundy had the original inspiration to create Fox News.
Anyhow. All that to say, Mr. McKay certainly knows his subject. With his new film about the life, career, and horribleness of Dick Cheney, he makes absolutely sure that we understand his authority therein. Everything about Vice seems to hail from a place of political obsessive outrage- of the Bush era variety. One might guess that McKay is one of those people who spent the first decade of the 2000s fuming that things could never get any worse at the White House. He’s probably been carrying that residual angst around ever since, and only now, in the considerably worse Trump era, does billionaire heiress Megan Ellison give him $40 million to finally channel his Cheney-rage into a movie. In terms of pure chronology, it’s not unlike Terry Gilliam and Hunter S. Thompson ranting against Nixon in 1998’s Fear & Loathing in Las Vegas– and at times, it’s as deliberately surreal.
(Surreal?? Come now- these are the FACTS! It says so in the opening text of the film, where we the viewers are assured that all of this has been carefully researched, even though it was really, really hard, even impossible, since Cheney was one of the most secretive political figures of All Time. This movie is many things, but “surreal” isn’t one of them. Rather, Vice is a tight comedy crammed with unsettling Truths. And, vice-versa! It’s all so clever, they should just cut to the end of film awards season now, and give Adam McKay all the Oscars.)
INT. THE 91ST ACADEMY AWARDS – NIGHT
ANNOUNCER (off screen)
Here to announce Best Picture, in honor of the recent 20th anniversary of the film FEAR & LOATHING IN LAS VEGAS, Mr. Johnny Depp!
JOHNNY DEPP, in full Hunter S. Thompson regalia, takes the stage with THE ENVELOPE.
The audience is a mixture of applause, chuckles, and arms-crossed defiance.
(while biting a cigarette holder and doing a voice)
Now lis’en up! The nominees for Best Pitshure is as follows:
(Reads nominees list)
And the winna is… This Oscar goes to… VICE!!!!
The audience erupts in a STANDING OVATION. ADAM MCKAY, already juggling statuettes for Best Directing, Best Makeup, Best Screenplay (Original AND Adapted), and takes the stage.
(Delivers the funniest, and most political poignant acceptance speech ever.)
Upon completion, the audience bursts with even more ORGASMIC APPLAUSE.
Somewhere at home, DICK CHENEY himself, watching this, can’t help but nod along in admitted agreement.
The next day, President Trump resigns.
Oh, if only. In Hollywood, where speaking truth to power tends to be worn as more of a suicide vest than a badge of honor, there’s no way that something as baseline incendiary as Vice goes the distance. (Even if right wing commenters and news junkies might assume that “Liberal Hollywood”, aka, “Hollywood”, will automatically canonize Vice as the Snowflake/Safe-spacers All-Time Number One Film Of All-Time).
Fact of the matter is that Vice really is a clever movie filled with great performances and memorable moments. But it’s really hard to concentrate on those finer qualities when the movie has its busy hands in one’s pants. Indeed, Vice is just so eager to please the hungry legions of leftist cinephiles and critics that it forgets to ever take its head out of its own underside long enough to engage in any real introspection.
Indulging in the same type of show-off-y narrative rule breakings that made The Big Short so memorable, it’s hard not to enjoy certain moments of Vice. Helping tremendously, just as was the case with The Big Short, Christian Bale and Steve Carell turn in fantastic performances (as Cheney and his mentor, Donald Rumsfeld, respectively), even under layers of some of the most convincing makeup of the year. They are the standouts among standouts, though also great are Amy Adams as Cheney’s wife, Lynne; Allison Pill as his daughter, Mary; and Sam Rockwell playing a particularly clueless George W. Bush. All are fully committed, embodying the real, living people they’re playing, even as they fall right in step with screenplay’s varying levels of schtick.
Together, as part of McKay’s no-stone-unturned filmmaking commitment, this cast tells the wild and disgraceful tale of how an unlikely drunk got it together and ascended to the U.S. Vice Presidency, forever emboldening that office in ways not seen before or since. With cronies galore, Vice insistently holds our hand and takes us through Cheney’s war-mongering, oil profiteering, heart attack inducing illegitimate stealth presidency. If even part of what the film details is true, in terms of legality or in terms of personal ambition, it’s a big problem. Democracy’s been long since whacked, there’s little question of that. What Vice can’t answer is, “Why?”. Cheney never seemed to ask that; neither did McKay.
In other hands, a Dick Cheney biopic might’ve been (to quote Rumsfeld on the Iraq War) “a long, hard, slog.” Also in other hands, though, we probably wouldn’t be talking about a Dick Cheney biopic at all. But, great success in the field of film comedy can reinforce an echo chamber as effectively as anything. If you are game for an unconventionally focused ramble through the “hows” and “huhs?” of how Cheney’s overarching rule might’ve gotten us to Where We Are Today, well here you go. If you happen to be a leftist elitist deep-state operative, seeing Vice will deliver the kind of conjugal endorphin rush usually reserved only for Fox News infotainment. So there’s that.
In any and all cases, Adam McKay is someone who’s got it all figured out, and really, really wants the world to know allllll about it. He’s got the platform, and he’s got the clout. The message is now out there; it’s up to us to decide what to do with it, and how many awards to grant its faux-gonzo vessel. So much freedom, so much fun.
This review is brought to you by Halliburton- The beating heart of American energy.