As it turns out, politics can be fun! Meaning “A Really Good Time!” as displayed in this high-energy flick that follows the rise and reign of Dick Cheney and all of the crafty, crazy characters in the White House around him.
If you know nothing about the Cheney era or don’t care for politics — that’s OK. VICE is a fascinating, fast-moving historical tale that’s never dull, features much Oscar-worthy acting, and is often surprisingly, laugh-out-loud entertaining.
The story picks up where young Dick Cheney (Christian Bale, who blends bulldogish gruffness with sincere boyish charm) — having been kicked out of Yale for partying too hard — is working in Wyoming as a telephone lineman by day and racking up DUIs after dark. Wife Lynne (a beautifully tight-laced, sharp-shooting Amy Adams), none too pleased with Dick’s errant ways, hands down her ultimatum: Sober up or ship out.
Sober up, he does. And then, between Dick’s rough, reserved loyalty and Lynne’s hell-bent determination to have her husband succeed, Cheney falls happily upward — first in politics, as the White House protege of Donald Rumsfeld (a terrific Steve Carell, in gleeful maniac mode), and later as a corporate swordsman. At his apex is his stint as the VP to President George W. Bush (Sam Rockwell, never better, who flawlessly amps up the charm wattage while dimming the wit to re-create an all-too-real, luminously lovable national leader).
Many extraneous factors make VICE as a whole a refreshing movie experience. The soundtrack brings punch to the scenes, which are concise but jam-packed with intel and switch often, in balanced segues that allow viewers to build on previous knowledge. Camera work is well-done, with unusual angles and closeups that both highlight and cleverly distract from points in the plot. The screenplay is simple, straightforward and stark, which is a good thing because the movie could have very easily been gummed up by needless details and dialogue. It’s the full ride, swaying from jaunty humor to tense drama to easygoing in-between moments. A couple of scenes could have been trimmed for time, but at 2 hours, 12 minutes, it’s a good length to tell the main story and make it worthwhile without omitting key pieces or keeping extraneous matter.
It’s the acting, though, that shines brightest. Transforming into a man twice his weight and four times his girth, Christian Bale somehow absorbs Cheney’s hairy, over-bulging belly and ungainly gait; his overdone, asymmetrical facial expressions; his wonky, Good-Old-Boy American accent; and his hesitant, heavy-breath cadence (Bale is slender, and Welsh, in real life; thus the massive physical and lingual challenges). Amy Adams dazzles as the brittle, battle-tough Lynne, and carves a lead actress role into a part that could have quickly whitewashed her into a simple, supportive wife. As Rumsfeld, Steve Carell is an absolute hoot; zany, mercurial and bounce-back unbreakable. And, HOT DAMN! Sam Rockwell nails the twinkly-eyed, rosy-cheeked, Texas-bred, barbecue-munching George W., bringing out the likable, laughable character who slyly teamed with Cheney to steer the country during an era of mass change.
Critics of VICE seem to be more history- and politics-savvy than likely are the average viewers. Timeline and accuracy are the core nitpicks. But if you don’t really care about details, dates and directives, you’ll find this a wholly enjoyable film. Its unique framework and pacing, frequent eruptions of hilarity, and mind-bending acting by a collection of Oscar-nom alums make VICE an experience that’s altogether a simply good time.
Director: Adam McKay
Stars: Christian Bale, Amy Adams, Steve Carell, Sam Rockwell
Rating: R (language)
Running Time: 132 minutes