Director: Adam McKay
Starring: Christian Bale, Amy Adams, Steve Carell, Sam Rockwell, Tyler Perry, Alison Pill, Jesse Plemons, LisaGay Hamilton, Eddie Marsan, Bill Camp
Run Time: 132 mins
Vice is Adam McKay’s second foray into more serious filmmaking after directing The Big Short which did well in its respective Awards season. Before then, McKay was responsible for his many collaborations with Will Ferrell, with films such as Anchorman and Talladega Nights. The Big Short was an interesting film – an unconventional investigation into the American financial housing crisis in 2007-8 that regularly broke the fourth wall with its explanations of financial concepts and had some good performances. However, the ambition behind the camera was more admirable than the film itself as I found it very obnoxious tonally and its pacing was very disjointed. McKay’s sophomore more serious effort is a biopic, very much in the same vein of The Big Short, focussing on Dick Cheney and his path to becoming the controversial, powerful Vice-President. Christian Bale looks unrecognisable as Cheney, gaining 18kg and wearing lots of prosthetics, much like Gary Oldman’s take on Churchill last year in Darkest Hour only with a bit more effort on Bale’s part put in by gaining the weight.
There’s a lot more to like in Vice compared to The Big Short as it features a tremendous performance by Christian Bale and it tells an interesting story of his rise to power. However, it’s unfortunate that the film runs into pretty much all the same problems that plagued The Big Short as it also is rather disjointed in its pacing and similiarly boisterous in tone. There is no subtlety to McKay’s direction whatsoever and he drives his political message home with a sledgehammer throughout which often crosses the line of being preachy. Whilst there are a number of comedic moments that work, there are also moments where the film is aggressively unfunny.
At least these negative aspects to the film are significantly muted compared to The Big Short. The story itself that McKay tells is fascinating and the way the story is structured is interesting. The performances are uniformly strong with Bale the obvious standout and there’s also a brilliant, muted performance by Tyler Perry. Technically, the film is excellent. All of the characters look impressively authentic and the film is well-shot and edited.
Overall, Vice is definitely watching alone for the Christian Bale performance and although McKay’s directing won’t be to everyone’s tastes, he’s working with some strong material. It’s one of the lesser films this Awards season and the lavish praise this film has recieved is rather baffling. But taken on its own merits, this is an interesting and unconventional telling of America’s most powerful Vice-President in its history.