by Ellie Tivey
Adam McKay’s latest film vice is seen to be a film that criticises establishment malpractices in modern-day America. McKay’s most recent success was the critically acclaimed The Big Short, exposing the Wall Street workings behind the financial crash of 2008. The Big Short was an admirable and largely successful attempt at making otherwise bafflingly complicated material accessible and palatable for a wider audience. This was a huge achievement for McKay, and one that has not been surpassed in Vice.
This film’s main objective is to unpack and explore the character and story of formidable ex-vice president, Dick Cheney. However, McKay shines light on his most insurmountable obstacle in the opening minutes of the film. Cheney himself is notoriously private particularly regarding his actions as vice president. As a result, the intricacies and details of his alleged misdeeds and malpractices during his time as vice president are shrouded in mystery. This is a content issue with which the film is constantly wrestling, employing humour, narration, symbolism and direct audience communication an attempt to fill in the gaps. These stylistic decisions, however , are communicated with varying levels of success, and ultimately leave you wanting more.
At points, the self-awareness surrounding the lack of reliable information surrounding Cheney’s time as vice president is handled in an intelligent and depressingly funny way. One shining example of this being a scene in which Cheney and his closest allies sit in a lavish restaurant, with the waiter reading out the many methods available to them in pursuit of legal forms of torture. This particular scene not only expertly displays the entitled flippancy with which Cheney seemed to regard human suffering, but also the emotional distance between Washington and the reality of their consequential decisions as a whole (a political observation that is not lost on today’s presidential establishment).
There are, however, some slightly more peculiar approaches that were less successful in their efforts to navigate Cheney’s alleged misdeeds. One such peculiarity is the sudden outbreak into Shakespearean script between Cheney and his wife, Lynne (Amy Adams), another being the excessively over-used motif of Cheney fly-fishing. Fish bait is displayed so frequently throughout the film that it felt almost patronising, OKAY, he has everyone in Washington hook, line and sinker, WE GET IT
Despite these content qualms, there is no denying that this film is littered with exquisite performances. However, it has to be said that, while most critics have been heaping (well deserved) praise onto Christian Bale for his portrayal of Cheney, the unsung hero of this piece is Amy Adams as Lynne Cheney. She expertly displays the all too commonly stifled strength of women in Washington. She has a character arc that is far more succinct and notable than Cheney himself. As her husband declines into the ruthless manipulator you always knew was there (established early on when he displays utter indifference to a co-worker’s serious injury), Lynne transforms completely. The first act of the film sees her struggling with the lack of opportunity her gender allots her, inciting a deep empathy from the audience.
The second act displays her finding her voice and carrying her husband through local elections, which inspired feelings of empowerment and pride. By the final act, however, she displays a delicate, heart-sinking danger that causes you to wonder why you would ever have wanted to root for her in the first place. It is this self-doubt that emulates the excellence of Adam’s portrayal.
Overall, despite its issues, this film is imbued with a sense of humour and fun indicative of McKay’s directorial style. The editing is exquisitely executed, causing the film to progress with an unpredictability of pace that renders it impossibly interesting. While the content issues are abundantly clear and not necessarily overcome, this film is a fun watch. And, given the solemnity of the subject matter, that is quite the achievement from a directorial standpoint.
Ellie is a recent graduate in History and Politics from the University of Manchester. Originally from Bristol, Ellie moved to Manchester in 2015 and has no intention of leaving any time soon. She spent the final year of her degree as Editor of the university’s only historical publication, The Manchester Historian, and continues to present/produce weekly news videos for a Manchester startup, Student Inspire Network. She has dreams of becoming a journalist and hopes to embed her passion for politics and popular culture in all of her work.