I don't know if anyone is shocked, but Adam McKay's look at the life of Dick Cheney is pretty R rated. I mean, mostly it's because the f-word is thrown around a lot. It's not like the f-word is thrown around in isolation. It's joined by all of its friends, so you can expect plenty of other language. There's smoking, drinking, and fighting. But probably the other thing to expect is some pretty violent and disturbing images. Between war imagery and some pretty explicit uses of blood through wounds and surgery, there's some graphic content.
DIRECTOR: Adam McKay
This is a weird year for the Academy Awards. Maybe 2018 wasn't the best year for movies. I don't think the year was bad by any means. I even really like a lot of the movies that get mediocre reviews. But there are some Oscar contenders that may sweep that have critical reviews in the 60 percents. That's really weird. I took my wife to see this movie on Valentine's Day. I think most Valentine's Days, we tend to see Oscar nominations. Depends on whether or not we have a baby at home, we sometimes do a double feature. Considering that we have a baby, we only could pick one movie to see. We knew that Green Book was coming to iTunes before the Academy Awards, we decided to knock out one of the few that wouldn't be available before Sunday. I don't know if this shocks anyone, but Vice is not a great date movie, especially considering that I'm turning into a dirty hippie while my wife doesn't care for hippies.
I'm not a huge news buff anymore. Oddly enough, during the Bush / Cheney administration, I was. I had Sirius XM and I jumped between CNN and Fox News every time I was in my car. But so much has happened between then and now that a lot of Adam McKay's film seemed to be a bit of a revelation. I want to spoil something really minor, but totally important to the film as a whole. I know that I should take it with a grain of salt. I know that the film holds all of the cards and they can reveal things out of context. I'm not dumb. But I do find the post credit sequence to be one of the funniest, most appropriate post-credit sequences. I'm not going to go into details, but this is a minor spoiler. After the credits, this happens. No one really comes out of that looking good, but one party looks worse than the other. Yeah, the movie has a liberal slant. The movie is a takedown of Dick Cheney. It's really interesting to see a movie address the elephant in the room, even if it won't really change minds. Honestly, while I loved that clip, I can see that clip infuriating others. I don't blame people for getting mad at that clip or this whole movie. It does paint with broad strokes. This seems to be a recurring discussion in my analyses. The movie does have the feature of preaching to the choir. Possibly the best thing for political discussion is giving the movie an Academy Award nomination because there might be some people going to see a movie that they normally wouldn't simply due to the nomination. But should Adam McKay be making movies that won't change anyone's minds? I don't know. Perhaps there is a push in Hollywood to grab people like me, the people on the fence. I knew that Dick Cheney didn't have the best reputation. While I don't remember much from my 24-hour news cycle days, I do remember that Cheney was a problematic figure. Seeing all of that stuff laid out was interesting. But even talking to Bob, he says that there was problem with the characterization for the sake of Hollywood. And that's where we have the problem that we've had before. Do all stories need to be biopics? Does a well-made documentary have the ability to be a little more objective? The answer is that I don't know. I want to say "yes." But I also know that only a tiny percentage of the population really sees documentaries.
But the reason why Vice might not be making the same waves as The Big Short is that Adam McKay has kind of shown his cards. He's either the silly outright comedian, like his stuff with the Anchorman movies, or he's The Big Short guy. He's going to take a political hot button and try to make it relatable by slightly dumbing it down and adding comedy. The Big Short felt fresh. It was unapologetic in the way it was made. The housing crisis seemed like it was going to be the most dramatic movie of all time, but people watched The Big Short because McKay remembered that it was important to be entertaining with your film. I totally agreed because I thought that The Big Short was extremely smart and entertaining, considering how dry the subject matter was. With Vice, The Big Short acts as a template. That might not be a good thing because The Big Short is really funny for a lot of it. When Dick Cheney's life doesn't really fit the mold for The Big Short, there are times when some of the jokes kind of fall short. Don't get me wrong. I laughed out lout more than a handful of times. But there were also a bunch of moments where jokes kind of seemed off or inappropriate. The jokes weren't inappropriate because they were offensive. They were just there to cover up for weak spots in the film. The thing about Dick Cheney's crimes is that they are mostly paper crimes. So there's this weird thing that happens in the movie. The beginning and the end of the movie are interesting. These are the moments that explain what makes Dick Cheney tick. It's closer to the biopic format than anything else. I never knew that he was an electrician with a DUI before he went to Washington. His relationship with Lynne is fascinating. Sure, it may not be accurate. Even McKay points this out by stating at one point that no one was actually there, so he had to imagine what the conversation was through Shakespeare. But the really damning stuff in the film is mostly just montages of paper and people signing things. What this creates is that we get really invested in a character that we know is going to do some bad stuff. But the only part that we really care about is the time before and after he did the bad stuff. If anything, and this is not what the movie is shooting for, is that the bad stuff is minimized. I'm not saying it doesn't have bite. It totally does. If you are invested in the movie, like I was, I found that stuff horrifying. But if you aren't invested in this section of the movie and found it boring like multiple people have said (my wife and Bob), what does it matter? You are missing the important thing and then that defeats the purpose of the movie.
Christian Bale, as you probably know, gained a ton of weight for this movie. It's kind of his gimmick at this point. I'm sure that telling Christian Bale that what he does is a gimmick would get me yelled at belligerently like I was some sort of lighting or sound guy. But his massive weight gain drew a lot of attention towards this film. The odd thing is, Dick Cheney doesn't seem to be a challenging role. Cheney is a soft spoken individual. He kind of sucks at talking. Instead, Amy Adams's Lynne is the one who is far more interesting. Cheney is this quiet guy who keeps making these strong choices. But the blowhards are all surrounding him. Bale doesn't really have to act much because he's just awkward for much of the movie. I know. Being awkward is acting. But Cheney doesn't offer Bale a ton of range. He kind of stays at the same level for most of the movie. Instead, we are drawn to three other actors: Amy Adams, Sam Rockwell, and Steve Carrell. Adams crushes it. If there is a takeaway performance in the entire thing, it is Adams. If Bale gets it and Adams doesn't, shame on the Academy. Adams is the bad guy of the film for real. Bob compared her to Lady Macbeth and I totally 100% agree with him. She's manipulative. She's power hungry. She is charismatic. She's the whole nine yards. Sam Rockwell is fun, though. That's probably true about Steve Carrell too. I remember seeing Josh Brolin in W. a few years ago. He was so good because he's a chameleon. He's really good at impressions and kind of nuances Bush a little bit. Sam Rockwell is not that. Sam Rockwell is what we all think of George W. Bush as a caricature. He is the Bush for this movie. Again, these are real people. But having this version of George W. Bush as a foil for Cheney is perfect. We get to see how sedate Cheney is and what he sees in this situation. Rockwell's performance also makes the decision to become VP make sense. The movie succeeds there. I love Carrell as Rumsfeld, even though I don't know much of the personality of the real Rumsfeld. He heightens the movie and makes it more of a comedy, but that's fine.
If there's a takeaway from seeing Vice, it's that the Academy Awards this year are about mediocrity. Vice is a perfectly fine movie. I would even probably recommend it to people who hadn't heard of it. But it isn't exactly amazing. The portrayals are very over-the-top at times to match the tone of the film. It almost seems to be trying to capture the quirkiness and uniqueness of The Big Short. But this movie could have been something if it was allowed to be its own thing. I don't want to see Adam McKay become his own little Oliver Stone. Stone became kind of a bore when he got preachy and simply copied and pasted his style over every film he did. There's some meat here and I don't think McKay got to it in an effective way.
Film is great. It can challenge us. It can entertain us. It can puzzle us. It can awaken us.
Mr. H has watched an upsetting amount of movies. They bring him a level of joy that few things have achieved.