Vice (2018)

TOMATOMETER

Critic Consensus: Vice takes scattershot aim at its targets, but writer-director Adam McKay hits some satisfying bullseyes -- and Christian Bale's transformation is a sight to behold.

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VICE explores the epic story about how a bureaucratic Washington insider quietly became the most powerful man in the world as Vice-President to George W. Bush, reshaping the country and the globe in ways that we still feel today.

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Cast

Christian Bale
as Dick Cheney
Amy Adams
as Lynne Cheney
Steve Carell
as Donald Rumsfeld
Sam Rockwell
as George W. Bush
Tyler Perry
as Colin Powell
Alison Pill
as Mary Cheney
Lily Rabe
as Liz Cheney
Eddie Marsan
as Paul Wolfowitz
Justin Kirk
as Scooter Libby
LisaGay Hamilton
as Condoleezza Rice
Shea Whigham
as Wayne Vincent
Bill Camp
as Gerald Ford
Fay Masterson
as Edna Vincent
Kirk Bovill
as Henry Kissinger
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Critic Reviews for Vice

All Critics (313) | Top Critics (40)

What is perhaps most remarkable about Bale's and Adams's performances is that they supply depth and nuance to a film whose director appears to have had no appetite for either quality.

Jan 29, 2019 | Full Review…

In theory, there's no reason why this approach shouldn't work -- if the jokes were better and the black comedy was blacker. But McKay isn't really interested in Cheney as anything but a target.

Jan 4, 2019 | Rating: C+ | Full Review…

You cannot simply sit and absorb this movie. Love it or hate it, you are one of its characters.

Dec 27, 2018 | Full Review…

In Adam McKay's free-ranging, tone-shifting, darkly funny, super-meta, hit-and-miss, absurdist biopic Vice, Bale nails it as the resilient, backstabbing, front-stabbing, ruthlessly ambitious Cheney.

Dec 26, 2018 | Rating: 3/4 | Full Review…

Exhilarating but ultimately off-putting... The gleefully scattershot style that gave so much pleasure in The Big Short ill-befits the somber subject of Vice.

Dec 26, 2018 | Full Review…

From the man who brought us "The Big Short" comes "Vice," a movie a lot like "The Big Short" that comes up a little short.

Dec 26, 2018 | Rating: 2/4 | Full Review…

Audience Reviews for Vice

½

Political biopics are a bit of a mixed bag. But when one turns out to be a hit-piece for one of the most reviled men to set foot in the oval office, you should pay attention, even if the final result is somewhat flawed. Vice tells the story of Dick Cheney and how he became one of the most powerful men in Washington for decades. It's not flattering and is ABSOLUTELY written from a liberal standpoint. (Surprise, surprise.) Oh sure, there are humanizing moments and Vice does present him as a human being who gambled, made mistakes, and cared about the welfare of his family. But it makes no apology in telling you that Cheney is guilty in helping to create the gigantic cesspit that is American public life today. (Oh, and it points the finger directly at the audience and implicates their complacence in helping to create that nightmare.) Now let's talk about the tone of Vice. It's framed mostly as a dark comedy with absurd cutaways and a tone that is often farcical. "Breaking the fourth wall" is a term everyone says these days in the aftermath of Deadpool, but to put it simply there is NO FOURTH WALL in this film. The entire movie is direct satire and will go to insane lengths to remind you that it is. And I think that's what damaged Vice in the eyes of many critics. I think they wanted a more conventional biopic and found the humor and awkward moments irritating. The director, Adam McKay is largely responsible for its comedic bent, as one look at his filmography would quickly explain. Abstract, non-sequitur humor is kind of his shtick. That being said, the fragmented nature of Vice did irritate me especially during the second half. Many scenes felt obligatory or like small vignettes and didn't flow together well. While Christian Bale and Amy Adams as the Cheney's seems at first glance to be bad casting, they really own it. Bale gets his tics, his speech patterns, and his signature coldness down pat. And yes, his physical transformation represents the kind of commitment actors rarely bother with anymore. Adams likewise plays against her femme-fatale type as a cold and square Lady Macbeth, who is less sympathetic than her infamous husband. Steve Carell is quite entertaining as a loose cannon version of Donald Rumsfeld, and Sam Rockwell doesn't quite look like "Dubya," but he certainly sounded like him and I wished he was onscreen more often. Overall, Vice is an entertaining, albeit preachy political satire that features fine performances and a few good jokes. It was certainly more diverting than one would expect and on occasion I like to have expectations subverted, if it results in something worthwhile. I think it warrants an investigation.

Joshua Sheetz
Joshua Sheetz

Super Reviewer

½

I really enjoy Adam McKay's writing and directing style, and while he doesn't do as well on this film as he does on The Big Short, his writing and directing styles are on full display. Part of me wishes he toned that style down a little bit to better balance the humor with the truths in this film, but to ask that of him is to ask him to go against his natural directing techniques. Pair this with possibly the best performance given from one of the best actors in Hollywood, Christian Bale, and you'd think this film would be amazing, but a lot of little problems like pacing issues, over-the-top directing decisions and lulls in the story keep this film from reaching the heights it could have reached, but it is still an enjoyable film nonetheless.

Sanjay Rema
Sanjay Rema

Super Reviewer

½

Known for directing comedies like Anchorman: The Legend of Ron Burgundy, Step Brothers, and The Other Guys (just to name a few), Adam McKay has been taking a slight deviation from his old style. Having recently directed the acclaimed film The Big Short, his comedy met his drama and formed a mesh that a lot of viewers loved. Personally, I wasn't a huge fan of his previous film, so I was a little hesitant on Vice. With that said, Vice is surprisingly one of the best movies that 2018 had to offer. I love when biopics have the freedom of not taking itself too seriously. Yes, there are some very touchy subjects sprinkled throughout the course of this movie, but I had a blast watching it. Aside from awards shows, I don't hear many people talking about this movie, which is a shame, because it's fantastic. Maybe I just wasn't all that invested in politics enough to know this story, but I found myself very surprised throughout the course of this movie, mainly due to the core focus on Dick Cheney. Vice follows Cheney's rise to power in a very quiet fashion. Having never once been elected President of the United States, his impact on the government was huge. Being an insider who went from bringing people coffee to pretty much running the show for George W. Bush during his Presidency, this story was ripe for exploration. George W. Bush felt obligated to run for President, which in turn made him need a knowledgeable and ambitious person to help him along the way. There are many ways this story could've fallen apart as a feature film, but due to the talent involved, Vice is one of the best of the year. From Christian Bale delivering a stellar, dedicated performance as always, to Sam Rockwell delivering an offbeat and likable performance as George W. Bush, to the likes of Amy Adams and Steve Carell who've always been likable, Vice is littered with terrific performances. Those performances are expected by these people, but I do believe Adam McKay has something to do with that. Whether it's in his older comedies or his recent dramas, he knows where each of his performer's strengths are and showcases them first and foremost. Even in the slower moments of the film, I found myself incredibly engaged, due to the fact that these performances felt so real. Not only do these performances make this a better film, but this is a screenplay that impressed me quite a bit as well. Having also been written by Adam McKay, he clearly knew the story he wanted to tell from start to finish. He chose the most interesting period in Dick Cheney's life and went with it. From incredibly weird and interesting choices in terms of where the story starts and stops throughout the course of the movie, I was kind of amazed at how a few scenes didn't crash and burn. Some audiences may find certain choices very strange, but I thought they were experiments that paid off. I can't wait to see what he comes up with as his next project. In the end, Vice is the kind of film that would jump at the opportunity to be nominated for numerous awards, but it's also one that deserves the recognition it's receiving. Many of the critics seem to be mixed on this particular film, but that actually shocks me. From weird (in a good way) editing choices to bizarre songs choices, Vice is a movie that meshes a lot of elements together to form a film that feels more like an experiment than a finished product, but that experiment just worked for me in nearly every way. I loved watching Vice and I highly recommend it.

KJ Proulx
KJ Proulx

Super Reviewer

½

If Oscar-winning funnyman Adam McKay can take the arcane, convoluted world of finance and spin it into one of the most entertaining, accessible, and enraging films of that year, then just imagine what he could do with the life of Dick Cheney? We follow Dick Cheney (Christian Bale) from his early days as a college washout, to Washington intern to Donald Rumsfeld (Steve Carell), to youngest chief of staff in a White House administration, to Wyoming Congressman, and eventually Vice President to George W. Bush (Sam Rockwell) where Cheney redefined the VP role as a defacto second president. This is the story of his 60 years shaping the annuls of political power. If you have one reason to watch Vice, it's the staggering performance by Bale (Hostiles). As is custom, the man completely transforms himself into his subject, gaining weight, building muscle in his neck to simulate the Cheney shoulder hunch, and going unrecognizable in startling older age makeup. He doesn't just look the spitting image of Dick Cheney but he sounds like him too, exhibiting his cadences and mannerisms, and fully inhabiting the man every second he's onscreen. It's a compelling, captivating turn that ranks up there with Bale's best. He's beyond great but strangely nobody else is. Amy Adams (Arrival) plays Lynne Cheney, Dick's wife and shrewd political partner, and her worst acting moment is her introductory scene where she lays into the young Cheney. It's like an audition where the actor is hitting the wrong notes too strongly. Adams regains herself as the film carries on but never has a standout scene. Nobody else other than Bale is given the material to stand out. Rockwell (Three Billboards) and Carell (Beautiful Boy) are enjoyable and aided by impressive makeup, especially old Rumsfeld, but they're given one note to play. Their roles become more impression than performance and both men drop out of the movie for long periods of time. The next best actor might by Tyler Perry (Gone Girl) as Colin Powell, and maybe that's because Perry is used to brokering nonsense with his own array of nonsensical characters. He's already the weary adult. The meta interludes and fourth wall breaks that helped The Big Short succeed conversely are part of the problem with Vice. Most Americans know a decent amount about the Iraq War and its documented fallout, so there's less need to have celebrities interject and explain complex scenarios and institutions (the absence of Margot Robbie in a bubble bath will always be felt). The narration by Jesse Plemons (Game Night) doesn't feel necessary, and his ordinary identity becomes a guessing game for most of the film, trying to link him with Cheney. I was thinking he would be an Iraq War soldier and get killed later on, that way establishing a stand-in for the thousands of men and women who are no longer walking this Earth as a direct result of Cheney's misguided action. Nope. When his identity is finally revealed you'll go, "Oh," and that's it. Because he wasn't really a character, he was a narrative device and one that didn't stand for anything larger. The visual metaphors can also be very, very obvious. There are consistent cuts to Cheney fly-fishing in a river, meant to evoke him luring others into his desired machinations. Even the end credits feature fly-fishing imagery, in case you had forgotten about this enduring metaphor. The conclusion literally involves a heart being removed and the sequence cut along a more figurative betrayal, and you can feel McKay vigorously pointing at the screen and yelling, "See, it's because he's heartless, get it? Do you get it?" We get it. The documentary-style and comedic techniques that allowed The Big Short to be as entertaining and accessible, and one of the best films of 2015, are paradoxically the things that seem at odds with Vice. The meta breaks are meant to provide a degree of comedy to the picture, which is generally absent comedy otherwise, unless you count the rise of Cheney's reign as the darkest of comedies. I suppose Cheney's nonchalant recognition of his heart attacks (he's had five) could be a potential comedic lifeline if you're being generous. One second we're told people don't speak in Shakespearean soliloquies in real life, and the next second the Cheneys are talking in Shakespearean verse. When it looks like the Cheneys will drop out of public office to spare their gay daughter Mary (Alison Pill) the inevitable storm of harassment, the movie has a fake-out end credit sequence to sum up their hypothetical lives. To demonstrate Cheney's knack for making the most ridiculous statement sound statesmen, he recommends that the Oval Office team put miniature beards on a part of their anatomy and perform an adult puppet show, which draws solemn nods of approval from the others. It's a joke that feels too glib, like the intended point is being lost by the lewd nature of the comedic aside. The only meta aspect that feels earned is the final one, where Cheney turns to the camera and directly addresses the audience, acknowledging he can feel their contempt but refuses to apologize for his actions in order to keep people safe. Because he's having the final say, because he's offering a rebuff to his movie, it feels more earned and fitting, and it would have had even more power if it were the only break in the movie rather than the last. It's hard to call this a comedy; it's more an incredulous indictment looking for its mob. I honestly think a straightforward biopic might have been the better route for Cheney. The first half of the film is more interesting and successful because it is the more illuminating half. I never knew that Lynne Cheney's father likely killed her mother. That's a pretty bold charge on behalf of the filmmakers. The early Cheney years are the moments the majority of Americans don't know about, whereas the later years have been well documented by a slew of hard-hitting documentaries, books, and journalistic exposes. There are whole movies about topics like the Valerie Plame leaking (Fair Game), the mounting mistakes after the invasion of Iraq (No End in Sight), the administration's policy on torture (Taxi to the Dark Side, Standard Operating Procedure), the drumbeat to the war and snuffing out of critical journalism (Shock and Awe, Lions for Lambs), the missing WMDs (Green Zone, Body of Lies), the Bush deferment memos (Truth), the long-term consequences for those servicemen who survive (The Hurt Locker, The Messenger, Stop-Loss, Last Flag Flying, In the Valley of Elah, American Sniper, Thank You For Your Service) and anything that Michael Moore sets his sights on. This list is not exhaustive by any means. Because of that the film seems to become a rudimentary montage once the Iraq War kicks off, sprinting through the rest as an intended tableau of hubris as Cheney's star and influence falls. I would rather have learned more about Cheney's early years in the Nixon, Ford, and H.W. Bush administrations and gleaned more personal insights into the man before he becomes this shadowy, mythic figure that seems downright Machiavellian in his control of government. It's interesting to watch Cheney and his cohorts plot their unchecked executive power behind the back of President Bush, but then what? It's the "then what?" question I keep revisiting with McKay's film, trying to figure out the larger intended message, themes, and dire warnings. I feel like because of the expanse of time covered, and the meta quirks applied, that the film too often feels like it's just scratching the surface of Cheney, providing a slight gloss to a political caricature. The biggest takeaway is the slippery slope of the "unitary executive theory," a term you'll hear often, that basically follows Nixon's own words: "If the president does it, it's not illegal." This questionable interpretation of Article II of the Constitution gives the president powers that approach a monarch, which seems antithetical the Founders' intents. McKay warns that any president could take advantage of this theory to do whatever he or she (sad trombone noise... sigh) desires. This is clearly meant to draw a line right to President Trump, but it's not like the 45th president needs sketchy legal cover to do his misdeeds. The idea that the Justice Department memos would be a lurking danger is quaint. A bad man with power is not going to look for the rules to allow him or her to break them. The idea that a president could be above the law is also a legally specious argument and one I don't believe our courts would readily back, even with the "unitary executive theory" (at least I hope so). With that in mind, Vice becomes a cautionary tale about the expenditure of power but lacks the adequate follow-through. Vice is a tricky biopic for a tricky subject and I wonder if it would have worked better being stripped of its prankster, meta interjections and tricks. It's a condemnation of Dick Cheney but it doesn't feel like it goes far enough if McKay's eventual thesis is that the current world problems began, or were grossly exacerbated, by the actions of Cheney. Climate change warnings going unheeded, ISIS formations going ignored, the generational consequences for unsettling the Middle East, and laying the foundation for an authoritarian strongman to be an acceptable political position for millions of Americans. These charges are clearly intended to be a denunciation of Cheney's legacy, but the end results play out somewhat differently, like a slap on the wrist. I think Dick Cheney could even watch this movie and nod in appreciation. That seems like a mistake. McKay is still a talented writer and filmmaker that knows how to keep his movie flowing and entertaining, buoyed by an outstanding performance from Bale. It's a movie with great components but seems to clumsily get in its own way with its presentation. If you're going to expose Dick Cheney as a heinous manipulator of power that has wrecked havoc for billions, then maybe you don't want to dilute your message. Nate's Grade: B-

Nate Zoebl
Nate Zoebl

Super Reviewer

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