As the title suggests, Vice tells the story of a vice president. Specifically, it discusses Dick Cheney (Christian Bale), vice president under George W. Bush (Sam Rockwell). During his tenure from 2001 to 2008, he increased the power that the vice president has and arguably made himself the most powerful vice president in the history of the United States.
Vice goes into a detail as to what got Cheney to the office of the vice president. From flunking out of Yale to grappling with running on behalf of a party opposed to LGBT rights knowing fully well that his daughter is a lesbian. Vice explores Cheney’s rise to glory, as well as some of his more unpopular and questionable decisions.
I found Vice to be a visually interesting movie, first and foremost. Sometimes the footage looked like something that was realistically from the ’50s to the ’90s. Other times it looked like a 2018 high-budget movie, so it seems to have been a visual emphasis rather than a stylistic choice for the entire film.
I also liked the movie’s use of fishing as an extended metaphor. Cheney is shown to enjoy fishing, and often shots of fishing or fishing gear are used to give a symbolic view into Cheney’s mind. For example, in the sequence in which George W. Bush asks Cheney to serve as his vice president, he initially refuses, but we see that Cheney is merely trying to give his “fish” a little slack before reeling him in. By creating the impression that he was willing to just walk away, he gained the bargaining power he needed to create an arrangement with Bush and gain more power than he would have otherwise.
Vice didn’t try to hide what it was once you walked into the theater. It’s a satirical comedy, and it doesn’t hesitate to bend the rules of accuracy for the sake of making a joke at Cheney’s expense. It has a point of view and bias, but it is at least honest about it. For the most part, it knows what it is and what it wants to be. While not every joke landed (iambic pentameter pillow talk, I’m talking to you), many did…even if some of them took a while to get to the punch line. Jesse Plemons plays a character that I can’t discuss in much detail for fear of spoiling the film, but just know that his character will not make a lot of sense for most of the movie. However, I think that the payoff was worth it.
There were a few glaring flaws in Vice, however. For one thing, the editing was strange, to say the least, and it began to grate on my nerves pretty early in the movie. For one thing, I don’t think that the first scene of the movie was even in the correct place. The film begins with a scene of a young Cheney getting pulled over with a DWI in the 1960s, then cuts to the situation room during 9/11, then cuts right back to the 1960s. Later on in the movie, the 9/11 scene gets played out again nearly in its entirety. It was the first of many, many strange editing decisions.
Another thing that grated on my nerves was the tendency for a scene to cut out just a little sooner than it should have. More than once, a scene cut out mid-line or even mid-word. It was distracting and jarring and it happened more than once.
Additionally, I do mean it when I say that Vice usually knows what it is and what it wants to be. It’s clearly a satirical comedy, but sometimes it feels like it’s getting too serious to be a comedy. One scene I can think of is one late in the movie, after Mary Cheney (Alison Pill) finds out that her sister Liz (Lily Rabe) took a hard stance against same-sex marriage to gain support during her congressional race. It’s a well written, well shot scene, but it did feel weird in a comedy movie.
Vice was a movie of extremes. Where it was good, it was great. Where it was bad, it was terrible. But the number of great moments outweigh the not-so-great ones, and I think it was a good experience overall. If you want a serious look at a powerful and influential figure in American history, then this movie might not be for you. If you’re a fan of Dick Cheney and you want to see a movie that paints him in a flattering light, then this is definitely not for you. If you love political humor and can forgive some awkward editing and tonal confusion, then you might want to give this one a look.