- Colin Fraser
FOUR STARS The mostly true and partially imagined story of the rise and rise of Vice President Dick Cheney.
Christian Bale, Steve Carell
DRAMA SATIRE #VICE
In telling the story of how Dick Cheney stole the US Presidency, VICE also tells the story of Trump, Reagan and every other usurper who has redirected democracy for their own selfish interests. Yet what sounds like an unbridled tale of anger is, in the fleet-fingered hands of Adam McKay (THE BIG SHORT), a witty, provocative and entertaining account that never looses sight of its raison d’être; to stick it up the right wing’s self-centred arse. Think of it as the narrative mirror of a Michael Moore movie but sharper, deeper and funnier.
Let’s not forget this is a work of imagination, one gleefully unrestrained by truth given so little of what happened during the long, dark years of the Bush administration is really known. That doesn’t stop McKay making a stab, some of it cheerfully absurd, most of it grimly plausible. Can you really imagine Bush Jnr running the government during and after 9/11, or seizing the opportunity to install Halliburton in Iraq? Nor does McKay, but Cheney on the other hand… To pound these propositions home, he turns to Oliver Stone’s editor-in-chief Hank Corwin (NIXON, JFK) whose flair for flamboyant visual dialogue is without par. Let the ironic cutaways and jarring juxtapositions flow.
Yes, VICE is forever calling you back to THE BIG SHORT for its eclectic, electric styling but piles on more and more layers - almost as many as the makeup team pile on Christian Bale who virtually disappears into a spookily realistic Cheney - as it shifts tone and cadence, whipping up a frenzy of outrage to the basic proposition that the US government was (has been) overrun by cynical opportunists.
While there's nothing new about that idea - most people have long formed a view on the proposition that Bush was a dolt, and Cheney and Rumsfeld were heartless crooks. What is interesting is a career lineage that traces a path from Nixon to touch hands with those in office today (security advisor John Bolton makes an unwelcome appearance). If you thought politics was for the people, think again says McKay.
It is timely, of course. Both the film’s chaotic nature and its self-serving characters speak clearly to the current administration, and the public sense of powerlessness about all that swirls out of Washington. VICE may often feel like the smug, left-wing sermon Cheney thinks it is (he barks as much at the audience in an astonishing tirade), yet it’s hard to argue with it as we continue to mop up the GFC-ISIS crisis he helped unleash.