VICE (2018)

  • Release Date: 12/12/2018
  • Cast: Christian Bale, Amy Adams, Steve Carell, Sam Rockwell
  • Director: Adam McKay

“WHEN YOU GOT THEM BY THE BALLS THEIR HEARTS AND MINDS WILL FOLLOW”

A phrase coined by Teddy Roosevelt that hung as a plaque in Charles Colson’s office. For the uninitiated, Charles Colson was the advisor to President Nixon and is considered by many to have been the one who masterminded and executed the Watergate Burglaries and tapping. As I sat through Adam McKay’s latest offering, I couldn’t help but recall these lines again and again as these in so many ways sums up the last few years of Dick Cheney’s existence as he rose from a near retirement to become one of the most powerful men in the USA as he enjoyed almost uncontrolled power and made decisions that not only affected thousands of lives but also that of his own.

A young Dick Cheney (Christian Bale) is ordered by his wife Lynne Cheney (Amy Adams) to make something of his life or she will leave him for sure. Dick resurrects himself from being a drunk and lands an internship in the heart of American politics. It is here that he comes in contact with one Donald Rumsfeld (Steve Carell) who handholds him and shows him around the corridors of power. Soon Dick finds his own footing for being someone who can speak and suggest the most impossible things and yet make them sound reasonable and achievable, a trait that helps him become the Chief of Staff during the tenure of President Ford. However,, with the fall of President Ford, his political dreams meet a premature break and he is forced to be sidelined. Atleast for the while.

However,, he soon gets back to the center of power during the term of Ronald Reagan, a time he considers to be the best under any president. Soon a time comes when he decides to take the leap for the oval office. Things don’t turn out well for him and he decides to tap out of the race. He seems set to retire to a peaceful retired life when he receives a call from George W. Bush who wants him to join his campaign as the next Vice President as he guns for the top post. Dick agrees after some minor alterations to the way a Vice President functions is agreed upon by Bush, chuckle! chuckle!

Apart from a few portions here and there, McKay’s story of a man who grew more ruthless by the minute remains engaging throughout. There is a certain tried and tested manner in which stories like these are told.  McKay, however, brings his own style and skewed perspective to the storytelling. The method of having a narrator who breaks the fourth wall and is also an important part of the tale worked well for me. Not just that, the film is ripe with symbolism and subtle references. When Bush is trying to convince Dick to be his Vice, we see Dick offer changes as conditions for him taking over the post. The moment Bush agrees to his condition, the scene inter-cuts with a fish taking the bait and getting hooked. A not-so-subtle but effective symbolism. The film is laced with many such bits that really make the proceedings darkly funny. Even the end credits of the film show fish hooks of different shape, size, and color signifying the characteristic of Dick that made him the man that he ended up being. The film even has two end credit sequences.

The film has some interesting facts to share with the uninitiated viewers. I didn’t know much about the origin of ISIS and this film shows us how a simple cover-up led to the rise of one of the biggest mass murderers in the history of the world. Dick Cheney was not afraid to crucify his own people if they went against him — a fact that is documented in how he leaks the identity of an undercover CIA operative when her journalist husband writes against the government. The film is peppered with many such interesting anecdotes all throughout the narrative.

Christian Bale as Dick Cheney is terrific. I thoroughly enjoyed his act. He gained substantial weight for essaying the character and one has to agree that the make-up work is so natural that it is nearly impossible to find the rough edges. As far as the performance is concerned, we are all aware of Bale’s acting prowess and he ensures that Cheney remains accessible and believable. There were moments in the film when I forgot that I watching a performance and viewed his act as the real deal. I believe that is when you know that an actor has done a great job. I cannot say anything against Amy Adam’s performance as she did a fine job but I didn’t like her here for the simple reason that it was the sequences were her essay was heavy that the film dragged.

Steve Carell makes for an exceptionally good Donald Rumsfeld. As his character grows older, he resembles the real man even more. I loved his cocky sense of judgment and humor. He has an impeccable timing of give-and-takes with Bale’s character and that helps his character assume even more importance and likeability. I was very apprehensive about Sam Rockwell playing President Bush but for the simple reason that he is more of a character than an actor. He has some iconic roles sticking to that face of his and it’s almost impossible to shrug those characters off when you put an eye on the man. He was, however, the biggest surprise of the film for me.

Vice hasn’t found the kind of takers that I believe it deserves. Bale doesn’t have much of an Oscar Buzz around his performance which was surprising for me. It is the kind of film that can be watched multiple times for its dense screenplay, performances and the craft that McKay brings to the table. I thoroughly enjoyed it and wouldn’t mind sitting through it a couple times a year.

Rating: 3.5/5 (3.5 out of 5 Stars)

 

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