Vice: Adam McKay’s Film about the Secretive Dick Cheney

Amy Adams and Christian Bale in Vice. (Photo courtesy Annapurna Pictures)

Vice reveals more history than some of us can handle in one sitting, which is why an HBO mini-series might have offered a better delivery system than a feature film.

This ambitious comedy/drama/biography is written and directed by Adam McKay (The Big Short, Anchorman), a former head writer for Saturday Night Live. McKay endows Vice with a howling sense of humor, which softens the first half of this introduction to the life of Dick Cheney. But then the journey grows darker.

Quiet, mysterious, and behind the scenes, Richard Bruce Cheney served as vice president to George W. Bush from 2001 to 2009. He’s played with great nuance by the mighty Christian Bale, sporting a balding head and an extra 40 pounds. The stellar cast also includes Sam Rockwell, Steve Carell, and the amazing Amy Adams as Lynne Cheney, the driving force who propels her young, aimless husband out of his hard-drinking life.

What’s also good about Vice is an imaginative presentation that’s brimming with surprises. And volumes of historical details that you may or may not have known. And most of all, a vision of the unlikely evolution of one of history’s most powerful politicians.

Christian Bale plays Dick Cheney in Vice.

Even for Americans who are appalled by the current White House rodeo, reliving the W. Bush years feels worse. We revisit events like the Bush-Gore election debacle, September 11th, “enhanced interrogation” of suspected terrorists, the Patriot Act, and the invasions of Afghanistan and Iraq. All navigated by a seemingly unqualified commander in chief and the unchecked authority of Vice President Dick Cheney.

In the opening credits, the filmmaker discloses the challenge of making a film about the secretive Mr. Cheney. But as McKay reports, Vice was vetted by teams of lawyers and professional fact-checkers, and he assures us that he did his “f–ing best.” If half of what Vice reveals about the Bush-Cheney White House is true, those years are more sobering than what we remembered.

Cheney was intrigued by the Unitary Executive Theory, which proposed that any action performed by a sitting president is inherently legal. His mission was to test the limits of power of the executive branch. Like supercharging a Boeing 737 into a Phantom fighter jet, Cheney turns the symbolic post of vice president into an autonomous body of the electorate. Our country—and the world—is still dealing with the aftermath of his actions.

Critics of Vice resent the depiction of Cheney as a political monster, arguing that the vice president did what was needed to protect and defend our country. And as we know, this kind of debate never finds resolution in a movie review. See the film and you be the judge.  Rating: B