The virtue in Vice

February 8, 2019

Written and directed by Adam McKay
Starring Christian Bale, Amy Adams, Steve Carell
In cinemas now

Vice is a worthily acerbic assault on the life and times of former US vice-president Dick Cheney, writes Alan Frank.

Given the all-too-frequent off-the-wall activities of the current haystack-haired White House occupant, writer-director Adam McKay deserves praise for lifting the spirits somewhat with this cruelly satirical portrait of former US vice-president Dick Cheney.

Despite its unpalatable subject matter, it’s both witty and hugely entertaining as an all-too-credible portrait of the man who wielded immense power as George W Bush’s deputy.

McKay shrewdly allows himself a bolt hole with his statement that audiences should leave their “preconceptions at the door” in his exhilarating portrayal of Cheney’s rise and rise, catalysed by wife Lynne, from boozy young Yale dropout in Wyoming to Washington insider wielding huge power as vice-president — “a mostly symbolic job,” he lies cheerfully.

After time in the White House working for Donald Rumsfeld, cruelly characterised by Steve Carell, he moved on to become secretary of defence and White House chief of staff and emerges as an archetypal all-American hero.

As well as shaping a political career, he was also a successful industrial CEO during the unfortunate Bill Clinton presidency, perhaps an even more necessary “attribute” in the US corridors of power today.

McKay’s film is inherently truthful — at least in terms of the mainstreams of US politics and Hollywood in general — and it’s memorably barbed and unforgettable thanks to Christian Bale’s Golden Globe-winning portrait of the clay-footed politician. He deserves an Oscar nomination too for a riveting, multi-layered yet strangely endearing characterisation.

There are no poor performances — Amy Adams is perfect as Cheney’s sympathetic wife who’s also an eminence grise behind his career trajectory. Carell happily reins in his “look at me, look at me” comic style to perfection as Rumsfeld and Sam Rockwell scores as Bush.

Ironically, we see Cheney having a heart transplant. Come on, a politician like the VP with a heart? That’s unalloyed fantasy, surely?

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