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“Vice” is hilarious and will make you furious…when you’re not blown away by Christian Bale

Even though the embargo lifted last week, I wanted to wait a few days to fully dive into Adam McKay’s latest, the Dick Cheney biopic Vice. It’s the kind of film that leaves you with complicated feelings. On the one hand, McKay is a master at moving deftly between comedy and drama. You’ll giggle in one moment and then ball your fist in anger a moment later. On the other hand, depending on your politics, the portrayal of this man may feel off. That could be true for both conservatives and liberals. At the end of the day, as a way for an auteur to try and figure out a man who no one really understands, it’s kind of fantastic. To say the least, the good outweighs the bad.

The simplest way to explain this film is that it’s a biopic of Dick Cheney (Christian Bale), one of the most infamous figures in recent American political history. Of course, it’s not quite as simple as that. Narrated by someone (Jesse Plemons) with a connection to Cheney that’s only revealed in the third act, we jump back and forth between Dick’s life. The beginning shows him as a younger man, essentially a drunk troublemaker. That flashes to 9/11, where as Vice President, he assumed command, to the shock of the rest of the cabinet. In a way, his origin story turns out to be that his wife Lynne (Amy Adams) demanded he make something of himself. Latching on to Donald Rumsfeld (Steve Carell), he enters the halls of politics and finds that the system is ripe for him to rig it in his favor. Nowhere does that more clearly assert itself than when George W. Bush (Sam Rockwell) taps him for VP. As machiavellian as Cheney often appears, scenes with his openly gay daughter Mary (Alison Pill) showcase a softer side, one that even his wife may not possess. McKay writes and directs, with the rest of the cast on hand includes the likes of Bill Camp, LisaGay Hamilton, Justin Kirk, Eddie Marsan, Don McManus, Tyler Perry, Lily Rabe, Shea Whigham, and many more. Greig Fraser handles the cinematography, while the score comes from Nicholas Britell. Count Brad Pitt and Will Ferrell among the producers here too, alongside Plan B folks like Dede Gardner and Jeremy Kleiner. Hank Corwin again edits for McKay.

It’s surprising how divisive this movie has turned out to be, since when I saw it last month, it was almost universally acclaimed. Regardless, it’s quite good and will make you laugh as much as it will make you angry. There are flaws, but when it’s on the right track, it’s pretty great. Bale is absolutely remarkable here, literally becoming Cheney. Not only does he look and sound the part, he disappears into the role. It’s just incredible to witness. Even if you hate the flick, it’s hard to argue that Bale isn’t amazing. The antics that McKay pulled on The Big Short are here once again, so if you were into that last time, this should work for you as well. There is one moment about halfway through where McKay opts to roll credits that’s the funniest thing I’ve seen all year. It literally made me howl with laughter The film alternates between enraging you and tickling your funny bone, but that one choice is comic gold. Adams, Carell, and Rockwell are good as well, though definitely in Bale’s shadow. McKay is very much on point here, though the overtly political nature of his work will divide audiences across the country.

Oscar voters are going to go for Vice. It’s just a matter of to what degree they go for it. The movie should be campaigned by Annapurna across the board, and it is. Efforts in Best Picture, Best Director (for McKay), Best Actor (for Bale), Best Supporting Actor (for Carell and Rockwell), Best Supporting Actress (for Adams), Best Original Screenplay (also for McKay), Best Production Design, Best Cinematography, Best Film Editing, Best Makeup and Hairstyling, Best Sound Editing, Best Sound Mixing, and Best Original Score. Bale in Actor is a stone cold lock for a nomination, at least, with everything else a question mark. It’s unlikely to be one and done, but anywhere from three to six nominations seems about right.

This week, the 2018 movie season wraps up, and Vice is the biggest of the remaining releases. Audiences are about to be able to dive into McKay’s view of Cheney. Those of you who agree politically with Cheney are unlikely to find this to be a particularly flattering portrait, but you likely won’t be able to deny McKay’s begrudging respect for the man. If nothing else, the film is a testament to how he set out to accomplish a goal and basically achieved it. The Golden Globes fell in love with Vice, so now we’ll wait and see how the Academy feels. In the meantime, for the conversation with relatives alone, this is a perfect Christmas Day viewing option…

Be sure to check out Vice, in theaters everywhere tomorrow!

About Joey Magidson

A graduate of Stony Brook University (where he studied Cinema and Cultural Studies), resides in Brooklyn, New York. He contributes to several other film-related websites and is a member of the Broadcast Film Critics Association.

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