Every year, when Oscar season rolls around, there inevitably comes a slew of biopics and true-story retellings. These often range from self-serious slow burners, à la Steven Spielberg’s Lincoln, to more purposefully thrilling and even tongue-in-cheek efforts, such as Adam McKay’s The Big Short.
The film pushes the limits of what a biopic can be.
This year’s Vice, illustrating Dick Cheney’s rise to power as the Vice President of George W. Bush, certainly falls into the latter category. There is no surprise here, however, being another of McKay’s directorial projects.
The film pushes the limits of what a biopic can be, incorporating a range of unique stylistic decisions to relate a tale that the film itself acknowledges is one masked in secrecy. These include a fake-out credits sequence occurring midway through the film, numerous montages of both genuine news clips and symbolic images, and even one scene in which a private conversation between the politician and his wife Lynne is conveyed in the form of a Shakespearean monologue. While the inclusion of these elements does keep Vice consistently entertaining across its two-plus hour runtime, as the film progresses through its third-act, they do become gratuitous substitutes for more linear and pragmatic storytelling.
What keeps the film grounded throughout this are its two leads, Christian Bale and Amy Adams as Dick and Lynne. While not seeming like obvious casting choices, the work of seriously impressive hair, make-up and costume teams, as well as the total commitment of both actors to their roles, sees the couple accurately realised on the big screen. Cheney is inarguably presented as a detestable figure, but Bale manages to incorporate a level of moral complexity into who could have become a mere pantomime villain.
One final criticism that can easily be given levelled at Vice is its blatant political bias, but I’d encourage any viewer to wait for the post-credits scene to witness the film tackle this head-on. It’s an incredibly humorous and self-referential moment, encapsulating McKay’s ethos with that wink-and-a-nudge fundamental to his light-hearted take on what could have been an exceptionally grim watch.
Rating: 4/5 stars