Art is as much about what you don’t paint as it is about what you do. The negative space, the pregnant pause, silence between the beats – there’s power in the gaps. Vice works best when it explores the virtues of Dick Cheney – or rather, the empty spaces where they should be. Our repugnant hero comes to Washington with about three meritable qualities, and proceeds to throw them all aside in his relentless quest for power.
The unfurling filth of Cheney’s cold black heart drags you down alongside his political foes, and all credit is due to Christian Bale. The American Psycho alum brings his reptilian anti-charm to bear in a career-best performance; rage, contempt and hunger ripple under the skin-suit. For all his moustache-twirling villainy, Cheney left the brash theatrics to his running mate, and Vice matches tone to his chess-playing mentality, for better and worse.
Vice is less wrathful than slovenly; the film only starts firing on all cylinders once the gang takes over the Oval Office. Cheney was a political adder waiting in the tall grass to strike – but until he does, you’re just watching the grass grow. Vice is caught between the sharp satire of Adam McKay’s The Big Short and a more muted biopic. McKay has spoken about a musical number left on the cutting room floor when they shifted Vice in a darker direction – a crying shame. Besides a clever framing device, the film leaves the fourth wall largely untouched, deploying instead the odd fake ending and thespian soliloquy. It’s wry, but not exactly riveting.
The performances are enviable, the subject matter delicious, but Vice ignores one deadly sin: wrath. McKay understandably pulls back to avoid simply making light of serious crimes (that as yet go unpunished), but you’ll wish Vice threw a few more haymakers.
CAST: Christian Bale, Amy Adams, Steve Carell, Sam Rockwell
DIRECTOR: Adam McKay
WRITER: Adam McKay
SYNOPSIS: The story of Dick Cheney, an unassuming bureaucratic Washington insider, who quietly wielded immense power as Vice President to George W. Bush, reshaping the country and the globe in ways that we still feel today.