2018, Movies

Vice (2018, Adam McKay)

With some slight reservations, I called The Big Short the most important film of its year. So, when this trailer came out, I literally said “YES!” out loud. It felt like my catnip. I normally don’t like reading much about a movie I really want to see, because I worry about how expectations affect my viewing experience, but in this case I must say I am super happy I read all the bad reviews, because my expectations were lowered. This was a good thing.

Vice is an absolute mess. McKay has taken the snark, the glibness and the condescension of parts of The Big Short and smothered his “biography” in it. McKay adapted that movie from a book but he wrote this one himself (as far as I know) and he seems to have indulged his worst instincts. And with he and his friends providing the money for the project, there was apparently nobody to tell him to cut it out or at least tone it down. If you didn’t like The Big Short you will hate this movie. I mostly loved The Big Short and I kind of want to hate this movie.

This isn’t a biography of Dick Cheney so much as it is a snarky message “documentary” only with actors playing the people and with dramatizations subbing in for talking heads. Stylistically, it is much closer to a documentary – one of those docs that tries to be funny – than it is to a conventional biography. That is a huge problem for me not so much because of Dick Cheney – who deserves a skewering – but because of the acting.

Because I think the acting is mostly great. Some people didn’t love it but I think Bale and Adams in particular are fantastic. And they appear to be in an entirely different film than the one McKay made. They treat their famous people as real people who should be understood while the movie makes fun of them and the American people for being duped. These are two different ideas, and the don’t work together. (I also found Carrell as a pretty decent Rumsfeld, though he doesn’t get enough time to really come across as a real person the way Bale and Adams do. Rockwell is good too. The actors playing Rice and Powell get very little time.)

In theory, I like the idea of Cheney’s donor narrating the film. It’s quite funny. But I think he should have narrated an actual biography, not a biography cum hatchet doc, which never makes up its mind as to what it is.

McKay just indulges himself way too much. I’m sure this seemed really funny in the editing room but it just doesn’t work. And McKay’s deliberately goofy avant garde style – because it is both avant garde for a biography and also deeply silly – completely undercuts the serious intentions of the actors he hired for his film.

5/10 because there were elements that were good, but I thought about rating it lower

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