Our viewing of the movie Vice left us with a coating of slime on our senses that showering couldn’t resolve. After leaving the theater we vocalized our intent to see an uplifting movie or two to nullify the experience. Fortunately, The Upside cleansed our palates for the next disturbing feature, to be determined.
When you watch a documentary about events that happened during your lifetime, you find yourself frequently thinking, “Oh yeah, I remember that.” Just not in this kind of detail, or with blanks filled in from multiple perspectives. I can only wonder how younger viewers will respond to this film.
For instance, I worked in a hospital lab during the early 1980s, a time that saw the introduction of Ronald Reagan’s DRGs (diagnosis related groups) that broadly impacted the way hospitals billed for services, and how insurance companies coded and approved payments. It was a big change that eventually trickled down to those of us working day to day in health care. It raised awareness within the workforce of how political matters, well, mattered. At that time, Donald Rumsfeld, president of the G.D. Searle Company near Chicago reduced his own workforce by 60%. Happy days were not here again, and Rumsfeld’s name got lots of negative attention by those of us who feared being the next target of expanding consolidation or outsourcing.
This is the same Donald Rumsfeld, portrayed with uncannily accurate creepiness and his nails-on-a-blackboard voice by Steve Carell, who later selected his own protégé Dick Cheney to succeed him as the Secretary of Defense for George W. Bush.
So that’s enough personal history to make the point that this movie makes so effectively: What if your life doesn’t matter? You are simply an exquisitely small part of a large military business machine called the United States of America that fortunately is the big kid on the block and allows many of us to enjoy our lives immensely without getting our hands dirty.
Dick Cheney, as the embodiment of paranoia and megalomania, is frighteningly portrayed in Vice by Christian Bale, who stated upon receiving an award for his role at the Golden Globes (best actor in a comedy) that he credited Satan for inspiration in this role.
A couple of points about Bale: His intensity as an actor led him to lose 63 pounds for his role in The Machinist, and gain 40 pounds for his part as Cheney. He transforms himself physically for his characters, and is unrecognizable in Vice, where Dick Cheney appears on film. I mean, I swear it’s Dick Cheney! It is also surprising that Bale is British. No accent here. Yet another transformation from this outstanding actor.
That Vice is considered a comedy is a bit misleading. There are a couple of sequences in which the director takes us down a brief comedic path, painting a picture of lives lived happily ever after, then just as quickly yanks us back into reality as if to say, “Ok, enough, I’ve given you some ice cream, now finish your liver and brussel sprouts.” It’s worth mentioning that Director Adam McKay wrote for Saturday Night Live for two seasons.
Obviously, this film is not autobiographical, but McKay did his best to get into Cheney’s head and extract a few lines. Such is the case when Cheney (the character) turns to the camera and delivers a self-righteous soliloquy about how he fought for our freedoms in his do-whatever-it-takes style. The audience is left cringing, shamed and blamed as if an abusive father just sent us on our way out of the theater with our tails tucked between our legs, having implicated us for making him do dirty deeds on our behalf. We wouldn’t want it any other way, would we?
The danger of diving too deep in this review is that it becomes a review of Cheney himself, so for more on this particular history lesson, see the movie. Subplots abound, including the revelation that Cheney’s daughter Mary is gay. Cheney’s handling and then mishandling of that personal drama played out on the nightly news. Lynne Cheney, played by Amy Adams, illustrates the adage that “behind every great man”…is a woman running the country. Sam Rockwell is less creepy than usual, wearing his George W. Bush good ‘ol boy persona. He is suitably affable, seeking daddy’s approval and trying to manage the most powerful country in the world, after having been dealt a severe blow on September 11th.
LisaGay Hamilton, who has done a ton of TV and movie work, having been acting since 1970, plays a spot-on Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice. I don’t recall her having a single line in Vice, but her facial expressions betray her thoughts loud and clear as she sits in cabinet meetings saying nothing, appalled while Cheney manipulates loopholes in the Constitution and the law to usurp president Bush’s power.
Of course, this film is biased, and those on Cheney’s side of the aisle are outraged to the point of Jared Kushner and Ivanka Trump walking out of a screening. The potential for modern comparisons abounds. Vice is narrated by an on-camera character, similar to the style of another McKay film called The Big Short. Perhaps decades of tangled history require this spoon-fed approach, or just maybe it results from a purely cursory recounting of only the most sensational news stories to reach the public about this complicated man.
Perhaps Vice is worth seeing as a reminder that there are people in the news, leaders of our country, who have families and jobs and emotional flaws just like we do. It’s just that we don’t have the ability to send thousands of young soldiers to their death, for good reason or bad. And after seeing Vice, maybe watching the nightly news needs to be a mandatory daily exercise so that we stop demanding so much of each other, and start demanding more of our leaders.
Is Vice a good movie? I’m not entirely sure. I feel that great writing, film production or art has the ability to evoke emotion from viewers, to elicit laughter, tears, or outrage. Or maybe just make you squirm and lose a bit of sleep, which is what Vice did to me.