May 1, 2019
Vice (2018)
Grade: 46/100

Director: Adam McKay
Stars: Christian Bale, Amy Adams, Steve Carell

What it's about. A biography of Dick Cheney, a veteran Republican operative and Vice President during the two terms of the Bush Junior administration. Though the movie regularly jumps back and forth in time, it chiefly follows a chronological progression of Cheney's career.

Cheney (Christian Bale) begins the movie as a Yale dropout and a two-time DUI convict. After his intelligent and politically ambitious wife (Amy Adams) threatens to divorce him, Cheney finds his footing as a politician. He hitches his star to Don Rumsfeld (Steve Carell), a cynical Republican congressman. Soon, Rumsfeld and Cheney are in the Nixon and Ford administrations, where Cheney becomes Chief of Staff.

After Ford is defeated by Carter in 1976, Cheney runs for Congress, and wins despite an untimely heart attack. He becomes Secretary of Defense for Bush Senior. Bush is defeated by Clinton in 1992, and Cheney takes a lucrative post of CEO for Halliburton, an oil company. Cheney manipulates Bush Junior into a Vice President nomination, and he becomes the veep after the Supreme Court installs Bush as President on a partisan vote.

The disinterested Bush Junior is a pushover for Cheney's thirst for power, which leads to neocon wars in Afghanistan and Iraq following the 9-11 disaster. Vice squarely blames Cheney for the war's existence and excesses.

Cheney also has to deal with his daughter Mary coming out as a lesbian during a time when this was anathema in conservative political circles. Indeed, the saving grace of the otherwise ruthless Cheney is his love and support for his daughters.

How others will see it. Vice is, of course, a political movie. Conservatives and liberals have made widely distinct conclusions about Dick Cheney, and that in turn will influence their conclusions about Vice. But any opinion about Cheney, or Bush Junior, or the G.O.P., should be made independently of however good or bad the movie might be.

That said, Vice generated substantial buzz, mostly based not on its politics, which are predictable, but on its casting against type of Christian Bale, one of the leading actors in Hollywood.

True to past form, Bale proved willing to gain many pounds to portray the obese sixty-something Vice President. He also shaved much of his head, and took other steps to resemble the decidedly unglamorous Cheney. Note that none of this actually makes a case why Bale is a great actor.

Despite the buzz, and a hefty amount of top-tier nominations at the key festival trifecta (the Oscars, Golden Globes, and BAFTA), Vice was not a great financial success. This had more to do with its huge budget of 60M, since the domestic gross of nearly 50M is high for a movie without appeal to anyone except politically active liberals.

At, Vice has a respectable 65K user votes and a fairly high user rating of 7.2 out of 10, which is consistent across all major demographics. The user reviews had were less interested in Bale than expected. They tend to explore the film's political insights and whether writer/director McKay "got" Cheney "right".

How I felt about it. I thought highly of Andy McKay's The Big Short. I am less impressed with his comedies, such as the Anchorman franchise, Talladega Nights, and Step Brothers. The question arises, why was The Big Short so much better than Vice?

One reason why is that if The Big Short had partly fictional portrayals of its leading characters, it didn't much matter. Nobody knew who these guys were anyway. But Vice drops names like a desperate marketer at a party he wasn't invited to. The portrayals of Cheney, Rumsfeld, Bush, etc. are unconvincing, partly because they are intended to amuse us. Isn't Bush Junior dumb? Isn't Rumsfeld crafty? Isn't Cheney so Machiavellian? Maybe not, in real life.

Another problem is the time frame. The Big Short takes place over a few years. Vice covers 45 years. McKay needs a miniseries to cover this material. So, the infamous episode of Cheney accidentally shooting a hunter from his car is a mere blip, as is the Valerie Plame outing, etc. Such episodes cry out for expansion.

But perhaps the biggest fault of Vice is that many scenes are implausible. We see Bush Junior practically begging Cheney to become his veep, while Cheney pretends to show little interest. One suspects that Cheney did more selling, and Bush did more listening.

It might also be that Michael Lewis' source book for The Big Short helped that film, while Vice lacked such structure.

What the film gets right, though, is the indifference of Republican politicians, whether the year is 1969, 1975, 1983, or 2001, to do what is morally right, or what is in the best interests of the country. Instead, they are out for themselves. Their goal is to acquire as much power as they can, by any available means, and use that power for selfish purposes even if it means (in the case of the Iraq War) that it adds two trillion dollars to the public debt and kills hundreds of thousands of Iraqi citizens. Winning wartime elections, and enriching defense contractors, are more important considerations.