After ingraining himself in Hollywood as one of the most prominent comedy writer/directors of the 21st century, with classics like Anchorman and Step Brothers, Adam McKay blindsided the industry in 2015 with his unconventional take on the financial crisis of 2008 in The Big Short. His ability to take such an arduous – and seemingly mundane – topic and transform it into one of the most entertaining and engaging films of that year took everyone by surprise.
This time around, McKay is tackling the extensive political and entrepreneurial career of Vice President Dick Cheney (Christian Bale), following his journey from an alcoholic college dropout to perhaps the most secretly powerful and elusive leader in the world.
Suffice to say, lightning has struck twice for McKay – Vice is undoubtedly one of the most unconventionally hilarious, alluring and, at times, emotional films of the year.
As with The Big Short, the biggest strength of Vice comes in McKay’s screenplay. It perfectly encapsulates the absurdity of the Bush government by, fittingly, presenting itself as an extremely dark comedy that makes you question how much is true and whether its characters are caricatures of politicians (like in McKay’s co-written The Campaign).
Vice is filled with memorable moments, from fake-out happy endings and the introduction of morally questionable characters (that introduce themselves by explicitly describing the shady antics they will enforce), to one particular scene involving Cheney and his cronies ordering at a restaurant, which is just too well written to spoil.
One of the biggest improvements of Vice over The Big Short, however, is that the jarring fourth-wall breaks (a-la Deadpool or The Wolf of Wall Street) that served as exposition dumps in the latter have been abandoned in favour of a more inventive and, in turn, more engaging delivery of complex ideas.
The ofttimes outrageous and absurd script does wonders for balancing out the quietude of Cheney himself. Christian Bale’s performance is completely understated and quietly conniving to the point that it’s easy to be tricked into agreeing with actions that are beyond the realm of humane.
Wonderfully juxtaposing his brooding and intimidating demeanour is Amy Adams’s turn as wife Lynne Cheney. Often taking over the more emotive and outward spectrum of their relationship, Adams’s performance provides a much-needed release of tension every time she is on screen.
Moreover, following lengthy political meetings and explanations of policies, the scenes depicting the Cheney family’s life together bring a necessary human element to the film and help to even out the pacing.
At its core, Vice is comedic in nature and often presents its story in a light-hearted and energetic tone. However, the subtle acknowledgement of the facts and the implications for the future of our world elevate this film from being a good biopic to one of the most frightening investigations of what it means to hold absolute power.
In cinemas: December 26, 2018
Starring: Christian Bale, Amy Adams, Steve Carell
Directed by: Adam McKay