From Annapurna Pictures and Academy Award-winning writer/director Adam McKay (THE BIG SHORT) comes the audacious and subversively comedic VICE, an unconventional behind-the-scenes look at former Vice President Dick Cheney’s stealthy rise from Congressional intern to the one of the most powerful men on the planet.
With his entertaining and incisive Oscar-winning THE BIG SHORT, writer/director Adam McKay laid bare the Wall Street chicanery that led to the greatest financial collapse since the Great Depression. In VICE, McKay sets his sights on another true story, that of one of the most elusive and secretive minds in modern American political history, Richard Bruce (Dick) Cheney, joining forces with Christian Bale (THE BIG SHORT, THE FIGHTER), in another transformational performance. The film co-stars Amy Adams (ARRIVAL, AMERICAN HUSTLE), Steve Carell (THE BIG SHORT, BEAUTIFUL BOY) and Sam Rockwell (THREE BILLBOARDS OUTSIDE EBBING, MISSOURI).
Spanning a half-century, Cheney’s (Christian Bale) complex journey from rural Wyoming electrical worker to de facto President of the United States is a darkly comic and often unsettling inside look at the use and misuse of institutional power. “This was a giant chapter in U.S. political history that I don’t feel has ever been fully examined on screen,” says McKay. “A vital piece in the puzzle on how we arrived at this moment in time where political consensus is achieved through advertising, manipulation, and misinformation. And Dick Cheney was the man at the centre of it.”
Guided by his formidable and unfailingly loyal wife, Lynne (Amy Adams) and mentored by the brusque and blustery Donald Rumsfeld (Steve Carell), Cheney insinuated himself into the Washington D.C. fabric beginning with the Nixon administration as Rumsfeld’s intern, becoming White House Chief of Staff under Gerald Ford, and after five terms in Congress, Secretary of Defence for George H.W. Bush. In 2000, he left his position as C.E.O. of Halliburton to run as Vice President to George W. Bush (Sam Rockwell) with the implicit understanding that he would exercise almost unchecked control, a co-president in all but name.
Vice – the story
Vice, shot in mere fifty-four days in Southern California, is Adam McKay’s latest pic about the modern Republican Party through the lens of one formidable character – the former Vice President Dick Cheney. A mix between very detailed and realistic character study and a witch hunt, the film bears strong similarities with McKay’s Oscar-winning THE BIG SHORT.
The first we see of Dick Cheney is as a drunken 22-year-old Yale drop-out in 1963 Wyoming. Just a few moments into the film, the viewer is transferred to 9/11 when Cheney takes over the control of the government in the absence of the president.
Then, moving back and forward in time, the viewer is invited to witness the inside dealings of the Republican Party and the ascend of Cheney to the position of probably the most powerful puppet master in the United States of America. We are also privy to Cheney’s private life and his relationship with his wife and daughters.
So strong is his bond with the family that during Cheney’s ascent, he tables his ambition in order to protect his daughter Mary (Alison Pill of NEWSROOM, AMERICAN HORROR STORY), who has recently come out as gay. This, allegedly, didn’t stop him from encouraging his eldest daughter Liz (Lily Rabe of WIZARD OF LIES, AMERICAN HORROR STORY) to campaign against gay marriage while running for office.
Both Carell and Rockwell start their performances in high-pitch caricature mode but soon settle into credible grooves that are close enough to the real guys that you fully accept them; Carell earns some strong laughs, while Rockwell, after initially overdoing it a bit, ends up channeling George W. in a way that feels quite satisfying.
Just like in The Big Short, Vice is layered with unorthodox elements including an unconventional narrator, breaking the fourth wall (when an actor acknowledges viewers and speaks to the camera), comedic surreal moments, documentary footage, and Final Titles in the middle of the film (!). The pace of these elements, while entertaining, makes it somewhat hard to piece the full picture as the story progresses.
For the largest part, it is a visually pleasing and enjoyable picture. Amazingly, the make-up and prosthetics are very fast-changing yet manage to keep the realistic look in every scene. However – perhaps sort of a shortcut or to add more impact – Cheney is implied to be solely responsible for a whole lot of events and policies including the war in Iraq, change of privacy laws in the USA, California fires, anti-gay rhetoric, undermining man-made Global Warning hysteria and much more. Which reminds a bit of a witch hunt.
Vice was written for Bale
McKay’s choice to play the quicksilver, Machiavellian Dick Cheney was an open and shut case. He wanted Oscar winner Christian Bale. “I wrote this script with Christian in mind,” admits McKay. I don’t know who else could have done the role and if he decided not to do it, I probably wouldn’t have made the movie.” McKay’s choice, it turns, was on point as Bale collected his Academy Awards’ trophy and Critics’ Choice Awards for the role. And there was more good news for Bale’s fans as the actor was nominated for BAFTA‘s and Golden Globes.
Not surprising, Bale portrays Cheney in such likeness that probably even those closest to Dick would not notice the difference. The actor met with a nutritionist so he could gain the weight in a healthy manner. He had a dialect coach, a movement coach. It took six months of makeup trials under the guidance of Oscar-winning make-up artist Greg Cannom before McKay and Bale were satisfied that they had captured Cheney’s singular appearance.
Adam McKay on writing the screenplay for Vice
Like many Americans, McKay had little direct knowledge of the elusive, seemingly unknowable Dick Cheney, who served as a virtual co-president to George W. Bush from 2001 to 2009, and in so doing, changed American history if not forever, then certainly for decades to come. “I didn’t know much about Dick Cheney, but as I started reading about him, I became fascinated with him, what drove him, what his beliefs were. I kept reading more and more, and was astounded by the shocking method through which Cheney gained power and how much he has shaped the United States’ current place in the world.”
McKay also read Robert Caro’s masterful biography of Robert Moses titled The Power Broker, another insightful look about one man’s rise to power and the difficult task of holding onto it. “After that, I started reading everything to do with power,” says McKay, “going all the way back to Shakespeare and it was then that the idea for the script began to take shape.”