Reviews are in for Adam McKay’s Dick Cheney biopic, and it’s not all awards-season buzz.
Despite garnering six nominations for this year’s Golden Globes, McKay’s kitschy approach to the politically charged film has polarized reviewers, prompting a mix of scathing critiques and celebratory praise for the director’s distinct film style.
What critics can agree on, however, is actor Christian Bale’s performance as the film’s central political character. In his review for Variety, Owen Gleiberman praised Bale’s descent into political madness, calling the performance a “virtuoso” impersonation of a politician “who has no problem stomping on the Constitution.”
“Bale, thanks to a stupendous job of prosthetic enhancement, disappears inside Cheney’s doughy armchair-warrior physique and deceptively innocuous balding head, but a puckish aura of Bale obsession shines through; he channels everything about Cheney that, in the Bush era, made him such a recessive and, in his way, magnetic figure of clandestine destruction.”
“Vice” hits theaters Dec. 25, but until then, take a look at what other critics are saying below:
“The Dick Cheney of ‘Vice’ looks and talks and operates just like the Cheney we’re familiar with, but in terms of his underlying spirit he might as well be a kabuki figure. The audience, in trying to suss out his motivation, let alone (gulp!) his inner life, is forced to fall back on abstractions like ‘greed’ and ‘power’ and ‘a flagrant contempt for democracy,’ the sort of labels that add up to a liberal-left indictment but do little to explain, on a level of personal psychology, the crucial issue of how American right-wing patriotism got hijacked into something so corrupt.”
“‘Vice’ is a kind of PowerPoint biopic, a Ted talk of a comedy, with fourth-wall breaks and voiceover routines borrowed from Michael Moore. But the stylised inserts reminded me a bit more worryingly of his previous film, the bafflingly overrated ‘The Big Short’ from 2015, a pseudo-satire of the financial world that tried to confer underdog-hero status on those money men who’d done well out of the crash.”
“Adam McKay’s ‘Vice’ is a seething condemnation of the damage done by the idea that certain folks (well-dressed white dudes of a certain class status) are offered a presumption of competence and expertise. Yet the movie, which itself is a cinematic mediocrity that is being hailed as a potential Oscar contender partially due to its subject matter and the established pedigree of its white male filmmaker. The contradiction doesn’t just validate the idea that movies about white dudes are automatically considered to be of greater critical value than acclaimed movies about white women and/or minorities. It also acts as a fascinating case-in-point for the movie’s core message. It’s a strange (intentional?) case of the film’s subtext being made text by virtue of aesthetic failure. That may make it an artistic win, but it’s still not very entertaining.”
“There’s much to admire about ‘Vice,’ from performances to its sprawling timeline, and yet it often seems trapped between the intentions of a broad liberal parody and more sincere attempts to understand Cheney’s essence, frequently indulging in kooky extremes before backing away with apologetic gravitas. Memo to McKay: Either make the ‘Dr. Strangelove’ of the Bush II years, or don’t.”
“‘Vice’ is a jumble of asides and visual gimmicks and pointed digressions, much in the same way that ‘The Big Short’ was. That buckshot tactic worked well enough on something as diffuse and hard to gather as the complexities of Wall Street. But when applied to what could be called a biopic — a study of one person — all that antic reeling obfuscates more than it illuminates. There’s a title card at the beginning of the film saying that, though Cheney kept his life and deeds very hidden and private, McKay and company did the best they could to tell the real story. But that little caveat actually pries open a wide chasm of possibility, and badly blurs the line between fact and a filmmaker’s imagination.”
“‘Vice’ has been told with all the caustic wit and self-righteousness that we’ve come to expect from McKay, and if you’re on his side, you’ll probably marvel at his clever storytelling, the impressive performances of his huge ensemble cast, and the way he makes learning, for lack of a better word, ‘fun.’ But if you’re not on ‘Vice’’s wavelength this may not be the film to sway you.”
“It’s all pretty awful. And yet somehow, McKay doesn’t make it seem awful enough. The tone of ‘Vice’ is jauntily Michael Moore-ish, although McKay doesn’t even seem as angry as Moore tends to be. He frequently interrupts the story with found footage or bold images. Some is zany (a blood-red heart floating in black space), some is jarring (abstract but vivid depictions of torture), but almost none of it works. McKay’s style here is the equivalent of a knowing cackle; the whole enterprise, elaborate as it is, comes off as lacking in passion.”
“It will break no news and spoil nobody’s fun to note that McKay is not a fan of his protagonist. His argument is essentially that much of what critics of the current president fear most — the erosion of democratic norms; the manufacture of ‘alternative facts;’ the rise of an authoritarian executive branch — already came to pass when George W. Bush was in office. But ‘Vice’ offers more than Yuletide rage-bait for liberal moviegoers, who already have plenty to be mad about. Revulsion and admiration lie as close together as the red and white stripes on the American flag, and if this is in some respects a real-life monster movie, it’s one that takes a lively and at times surprisingly sympathetic interest in its chosen demon.”
“It’s a challenge for the audience to keep up, but that’s part of the point. The entire movie messes with the audience as much as it wickedly satirizes the real-life characters it’s portraying. McKay isn’t leading you into the dark mind of Cheney — he is sprinting through it and hoping you can keep up.”
“The grab-bag of cinematic tricks aren’t as brash and original as in ‘The Big Short,’ but McKay only gets to make that first impression once. More troubling is how he tries to connect too many dots back to Cheney’s ideas and initiatives — like blaming Cheney for inadvertently creating the Islamic State. ‘Vice’ wants to paint Cheney as the evil mastermind of 40 years of Republican megalomania and not merely the most savvy player within it, but McKay’s intel is as selective as that of the man he’s depicting.”