★★★★ - STUFF
- Christian Bale, Amy Adams shine in this surprisingly nuanced look at life of Dick Cheney.
-There really is no winning with political biographies of living characters – especially one as contentious, storied and polarising as Dick Cheney.
If you make a dry and academic documentary; one that sticks only to the facts that could not be challenged in a libel case, then you'll finish up with a mostly unwatchable and completely unwatched dissertation that'll never find an audience outside of specialist film festivals and wherever Noam Chomsky is talking this week.
Or, make a fictionalised, but entertaining version of events, and you'll be accused of partisan crowdpleasing and still be mostly ignored by anyone not in the choir you are here to preach to.
But, walk a very fine line between the two schools and just maybe you can deliver a film which will please its audience and still make a few new converts along the way.
Writer/director Adam McKay pulled off exactly that trick with 2015's The Big Short. And with Vice, his biopic on Vice President Dick Cheney, he very nearly succeeds again.
The difference between the two films is surely that the Global Financial Crisis of 2008 was less-polarising subject matter. Everybody, whether you were Red State or Blue, was open to being told how the banks and Wall Street had screwed them over. With utterly Orwellian cynicism, the Republican Party even managed to turn that story to their own advantage in the 2016 election.
But Cheney, with his ties to three Republican administrations, the architect of the war in Iraq, the arch-manipulator of public opinion? He was always going to be a harder topic to get across the party lines.
McKay opens his tale in 1963, with a surprisingly hopeless and feckless Cheney being booted out of Yale and very nearly losing his marriage as a result of his drinking and fighting. Witnessing the appalling treatment of a fellow county lineman, Cheney resolves, not to work to better the lot of the working classes, but to damn well make sure he never has to be a member of that class again.
From there, McKay's narrative zips around the major waypoints of Cheney's career. The agreement to become Bush Jr's running-mate is depicted as the soft coup that led directly to the Vice President becoming a more potent shaper of world events than – arguably – any actual President since.
McKay is aided immeasurably by a raft of fantastic performances. Christian Bale and Amy Adams are astonishing as Dick and Lynne Cheney, with the latter offered up as the equal to her husband's Machiavellian scheming. Sam Rockwell makes for a crowdpleasing Bush Jr and Steve Carell is unlikely but effective as Donald Rumsfeld.
Vice is a more nuanced film than I was expecting. I don't doubt that it is also as close to the truth as we are ever likely to know.
In an awards season crammed with clear contenders, it is one to watch out for, and a perversely, bleakly entertaining look at an American tragedy we still live with today.
- Graeme Tuckett, STUFF