Vice
Fox // R // $19.99 // April 2, 2019
Review by Jesse Skeen | posted April 29, 2019
R E P L A Y
A D V I C E
Recommended
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R E V I E W S
Graphical Version

The above text introduces this movie, which gives us a good idea of what we're in for. Yes, this is about former Vice-President Dick Cheney, and it's clear from the get-go that it was made by people who don't like him. My own view of the Bush-Cheney era was that it would make at least one good movie someday. (Oliver Stone quickly put out W which I still haven't gotten around to watching.) Vice at first glance looks like your standard political drama, but it's handled in a darkly comic fashion with many of the filmmakers coming from a primarily comedic background.

Christian Bale plays Cheney, and gets most of his mannerisms down pat. The amazing thing however is how he pulls off looking like him, largely thanks to aging makeup from Greg Cannom. I still see Bale as that kid from Empire of the Sun but here he ages several decades over the course of the movie. If nothing else, it's worth watching just for this alone. The narrative itself skips back and forth between time periods, which I've never really liked- early on we see Cheney's reaction to the 9/11 terrorist attacks and then we suddenly flash back to his younger days in Wyoming. The basic story told here though is how he entered the political world despite being kicked out of Harvard earlier- first serving as a "lackey" for Richard Nixon staffer Donald Rumsfeld (played by Steve Carell, who makes him out to be rather slimy but likeable nonetheless), surviving the Watergate scandal to serve as President Ford's Chief of Staff, and ultimately becoming George W. Bush's (Sam Rockwell) Vice President.

Cheney's wife Lynne (Amy Adams) is shown as the driving force behind him- it's remarked that anyone she married would at least come close to becoming President. The movie certainly doesn't make it clear what attracted her to him or why she even stuck with him after his drunken days at Harvard, but she sees her own political opportunities limited by her gender and needs to live her ambitions out through him. The prospect of him becoming vice-president doesn't really excite her- they both see it as a "nothing job", but when Bush Jr. decides to run he pretty much insists on taking Cheney with him. He warms up to the idea a bit more when he finds that the written legal responsibilities of the position are rather vague, and is able to come to an "understanding" with Bush about what he'll be able to do. This is where the narrative gets a bit vague as critics of that administration have said that Cheney was the one "pulling the strings" the entire time- he is shown taking a few liberties, such as making some important calls during the 9/11 attacks when Bush wasn't in the office, but the real dirty things he's been accused of are only hinted at. Keeping with the dark comic tone, Rockwell portrays Bush as someone who doesn't really know what he's doing, only becoming President because it was basically decided he was next in line for it.

Director Adam McKay has plenty of other tricks up his sleeve as well- there's a fake ending halfway through the movie where Cheney takes a different direction and the world ends up a better place for it, and a scene that's been much talked about is where he and his cohorts visit a restaurant where Alfred Molina puts in a small appearance as a waiter and presents them with a "menu" of anti-terrorism measures. There's also a fictional "everyman" named Kurt (Jesse Plemons) serving as our "story-teller"- he says that his part in the story is a surprise and it certainly is when revealed, though it's clearly artistic license and not something that actually happened in real life.

Picture, Sound and Subtitles:

The movie was actually shot on 35mm film in 2.35 anamorphic, which these days is a relief, but was clearly posted via electronic means as it's likely no film prints were ever made for theaters. Most scenes are quite darkly lit, and a green tint is applied to most of the scenes taking place in political offices. There's a layer of film grain which you can be assured is real, not a digitally-added effect. There's a problem with the Blu-Ray disc encoding however- an odd moving pattern roughly in an "X" shape which is apparent from the black-screen moments at the beginning and lasting clearly through to the end. I have seen this on a few digital streaming movies (Divergent being one memorable example, which I just checked and that flaw is still present on every streaming provider), the effect is almost like a moth's wings flapping in front of the projector's lens. When watching this disc I double-checked all of my settings to make sure the problem was not on my end, it's clearly on the disc itself and the first time I have seen this outside of digital streaming. Someone in quality control should have noticed this, and the picture score here loses several points as a result. A standard DVD is also included, which is of course limited to that format's resolution but I did not see this effect there.

This is mainly a dialogue picture with voices staying centered with music score in the left and right channels, but there are a handful of creative uses of the surround channels. Both discs include hearing-impaired subtitles along with Spanish, and the DVD also includes old-style closed captions.

Extras:

Both discs include the same extras, starting with three deleted scenes. One showing Dick and Lynne's high school days is presented as a separate short film in black and white, and another is a humorous musical number that took up a bit of time but would have worked well. There's even a short featurette on this musical number, and a 35-minute general making-of piece that explains what the writers and director were going for here (again, they clearly don't like Cheney but felt that having the movie convey a positive attitude about everything would make it all the more humorous) and also shows Christian Bale's elaborate make-up process. A short still gallery and the movie's trailer round out the extras.

Final Thoughts:

One's opinion of the real story will likely affect their perception of this movie, and its ending even acknowledges this. Not being an expert on the matter myself, it seems that there were things about Cheney that the filmmakers wanted to "expose" here, but really didn't go very far doing so. (One is that it's said Cheney got the United States into the war with Iraq based on non-existent weapons of mass destruction- that's touched on here but without much impact at all- it just seems like a brief joke with a punch line.) So those who do like Cheney will likely see this as an 'attack' against him, while those who don't like him will think it doesn't go far enough. Still, Vice is a decent effort with plenty for those who see the humor in most situations, and Christian Bale certainly pulls off a memorable performance.



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