'Vice' Outsmarts The Field As Christian Bale Immaculately Portrays Dick Cheney

The awards season darling is well on its way to being a classic

December 19, 2018
Christian Bale as Dick Cheney in Adam McKay’s VICE, an Annapurna Pictures release.

Matt Kennedy / Annapurna Pictures 2018 © Annapurna Pictures, LLC. All Rights Reserved.


I do not follow politics. I do not try to pretend that I know what is going on in the political landscape, because those efforts are usually futile. I can't say I have many opinions on the matters.

However, I was drawn to see Vice because of the critical acclaim it was receiving, and six Golden Globe Award nominations. What could I learn from this Dick Cheney bio-pic that I didn't learn in AP U.S. History in high school?

Well, Vice is not your typical bio-pic. It's really not your typical movie at all because of how smart director and writer Adam McKay's script is. If you've seen McKay's The Big Short about the financial crisis of the mid-to-late aught's, the format is similar. And dazzling.

Here's what I took away after going in knowing only that Dick Cheney was vice president to George W. Bush from 2001 to 2009.

Cheney changed American history, if not forever, then certainly for decades to come. Seriously.

The story spans a half-century, and follows Cheney’s (Christian Bale) complex journey from rural Wyoming electrical worker to de facto President of the United States. His journey starts with a mentor, the blustery Donald Rumsfeld (Steve Carell), who helps Cheney insinuate himself into the Washington D.C. fabric beginning with the Nixon administration, becoming White House Chief of Staff under Gerald Ford, and after five terms in Congress, Secretary of Defense for George H.W. Bush. Eventually, in 2000, basically co-president in all but name with George W. Bush (Sam Rockwell).

The story told from Cheney and his wife, Lynne's (Amy Adams) perspective is both incredibly poetic and melodic. There's a certain scene when the two, now a much older couple, are laying in bed and the story breaks into a Shakespearean soliloquy.

You heard that right. If you can appreciate the story-telling ability of Vice and follow along with the quick-witted dialogue of characters, you're really going to enjoy this movie. From all the wit to plenty of narrative daring, there'll undoubtedly be some awards night speeches for this film.

Amy Adams (left) as Lynne Cheney and Christian Bale (right) as Dick Cheney in Adam McKay’s VICE, an Annapurna Pictures release.
Matt Kennedy / Annapurna Pictures 2018 © Annapurna Pictures, LLC. All Rights Reserved.

But, what's also brilliant about the true story of Vice, is that its broken down in a way that anybody can understand. There are these critical moments in United States history that were swept completely under the rug, but Vice brings them to a very basic level of understanding.

Director Adam McKay doesn't pretend to understand the moments that were off the record. There's a scene after the September 11th attacks where Cheney is having a private conversation and the narrator, Kurt (Jesse Plemons), clearly states "no one knows what was said that day..." And that's what makes the movie great. There's no nonsense.

There's cutaways. There's flashbacks. But its easy to follow.

Most importantly, Vice allows you to learn in a way you weren’t expecting. The movie holds up a mirror to each and every one of us on what we might do if we had such power. It forces us to look at who we are as a person, as a family man, and as a nation as well.

And that's what makes Christian Bale's performance so transcendent. Bale's chameleonic ability to transform and his commitment to a role is unrivaled. The brilliance of his range from funny and lovely to ruthless and frightening is as unparalleled as his work ethic.

Bale makes Vice what it is. A darkly comic and often unsettling inside look at the use and misuse of institutional power. Dick Cheney was both a dedicated family man and political puppet master.

Whatever your political affiliation, Vice is a movie for anyone who cares about this country. At its core, its a great movie that promotes and encourages understanding of where we are now, which most people will agree is uncertain, and demonstrates that it didn’t happen overnight.

What you'll take away is that Dick Cheney was truly one of the most elusive and secretive minds in modern American political history. I'm telling you, leave your preconceptions at the door. Vice is worth the price of admission, and more.

Ben at the Box Office rating: 4.5 out of 5 Buckets Of Popcorn