Saturday, August 24, 2019

Cinestudio Preview: Vice, Taken with a Grain of Salt

Erin Gannon ’19

Staff Writer

If you imagine American Psycho with the violence scaled back and picked up the plot and dropped it on Capitol Hill in Washington, D.C., you might begin to get a sense of Adam McKay’s Vice. A quasi-satirical biopic about the life and political career of Dick Cheney (Christian Bale), the Vice President of the United States under George W. Bush (Sam Rockwell), Vice is an admittedly-biased but brilliant self-aware piece of journalism that is simultaneously hilarious and terrifying.

Vice opens with Cheney throwing fists in a bar, leaving, and proceeding to get a DUI on his way home. There, his wife Lynne (Amy Adams) implores him to turn his life around and threatens to leave him if he doesn’t. From there, Vice tells the story of how a stumbling drunk limping home from a bar fight would go on to become one of the most influential politicians in American history.

Bale, who won a Golden Globe and an Oscar nomination for the film, is phenomenal as Cheney, turning the unassuming vice president into a sociopath on the hunt for world domination. Vice is a comedy in many ways, but its humor does not come from Bale’s performance. Bale’s Cheney is nightmare-inducingly cold-hearted – Bale even thanked “Satan” for serving as inspiration for the role during his Golden Globe acceptance speech.

Vice does Cheney’s public image no favors as it paints him as a puppeteer pulling the strings on Capitol Hill, on a mission to reduce checks and balances and increase the powers of the executive branch, at the expense of the lives of the American people. Cheney perfectly executes an expertly-planned mission to clear Washington of his political opponents on an ultimate quest to increase the profitability of the oil industry, as he just-so-happened to be the CEO of a massive, multinational oil corporation at the time. He eventually succeeds, but with no regard for the thousands of innocent lives lost as a byproduct.

As with any piece of art that takes a definitive stance on an important political figure, Vice is meant to be taken with a grain of salt. The facts presented in its plot are interpretations of events that were never well-documented, and Vice takes many liberties with drawing conclusions where evidence is not entirely available.

However, McKay acknowledges this bias. One could argue that the main character of Vice is not Cheney at all, but rather the film itself. Vice breaks the fourth wall repeatedly and actively works to highlight precisely the conclusions it wants its audience to draw, in completely unsubtle ways. Vice is hilariously funny in that its self-references are so heavy-handed it literally points out its own bias and is entirely unapologetic for it. In this way, Vice invites audiences on both ends of the political spectrum, and despite its humor, manages to encourage conversations that are necessary at a time when the American political scene is so sharply divided.

Vice plays at Cinestudio March 15-16.

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