Irony, humor and politics fill McKay’s “Vice”
Blu-ray, DVD, Digital copy; 2018; R for profanity and some violent images; streaming via Amazon Video/Prime, FandangoNOW, Google Play, iTunes, Vudu, YouTube
Best extra: “Gaming the System” making-of documentary
WRITER/DIRECTOR Adam McKay, whose portfolio includes “Saturday Night Live,” the “Anchorman” movies, and “The Big Short,” points his quirky, satiric humor onto the life and career of Dick Cheney in “Vice.”
Starring an almost unrecognizable Christian Bale, with Amy Adams as Cheney’s wife Lynne, Steve Carell as Donald Rumsfeld, and Sam Rockwell as George W. Bush, the film is as entertaining as it is full of surprises. Beginning with Cheney’s expulsion from Yale and a drunken driving arrest in 1963, after which Lynne threatens to break their engagement if he doesn’t straighten up, through the decades until he’s the conniving power behind W’s presidency, “Vice” often reminds us that McKay is a trickster.
He seesaws between what seems to be faithful representations of reality and “Dr. Strangelove”-like absurdity. In one example, the credits roll long before the film is over, hinting at a happier ending for America had Cheney never become VP. In another, a waiter (Alfred Molina) in a posh restaurant recites the evening’s specials to Cheney’s table, but instead of describing delectable meals, he offers things like “enhanced interrogation,” ways to initiate a war, and other subversions of the U.S. Constitution, to which Rumsfeld (Carell) delightedly replies, “Sounds delicious!”
And while McKay clearly has an opinion on Cheney and the evil resulting from his influence, he shows some positive qualities of his protagonist, such as Cheney’s support and acceptance when his daughter Mary (Alison Pill) reveals she’s gay. All through “Vice,” a narrator helps put things into perspective for the audience. Played by Jesse Plemons, this working-class everyman weighs in sporadically, either by voiceover or appearance, until we are shown his strange connection to Cheney. Deservedly nominated for eight Oscars, including Best Picture, Director, and Original Screenplay, Best Actor (Bale), Adams and Rockwell for supporting roles, and editing, the film won for Best Makeup.
This Fox Home Entertainment Blu-ray presents “Vice,” which was shot in 35mm (2.39:1 aspect ratio). Some of the grain associated with film is evident throughout. The movie contains a lot of visual variety, in terms of format, depending upon where in Cheney’s life events are occurring. The result is a sort of patchwork of looks, color saturation, and even clarity. That noted, viewers may not even register these inconsistencies because there is always so much going on in each scene.
The DTS-HD audio track is very good, with dialogue mostly crystal clear, the soundtrack, score, and effects always working well in conjunction with the visuals. The original score is by Nicholas Britell, who composed music for “Moonlight,” “The Big Short,” and “If Beale Street Could Talk.”
Include some unique “deleted scenes,” such as an entire short film about Lynne and Dick’s high school romance; a rousing song-and-dance number set in a government cafeteria where Rumsfeld is giving advice to Cheney; and a conventional stills gallery.
The 35-plus-minute making-of documentary has plenty of interesting information. McKay recalls his previous foray into the world of politics when he co-wrote and directed a one-man Broadway show about George W. Bush starring Will Ferrell. Of Dick Cheney, McKay says he “understood the layers of bureaucracy.” McKay also talks about casting Tyler Perry as Colin Powell and Adams as Lynne Cheney: “The unexpected is Amy’s signature.” Regarding the use of a narrator, Adams says it “helps explain what really happened,” to which McKay adds, “Our narrator is America!” McKay laughs about a scene in which it seems as though Lynne and Dick exchange Shakespearean dialogue (shades of the Macbeths?), but the lines were written for the movie “courtesy of me and my daughter.” McKay says he wanted to show the way Cheney “started redefining the terms ‘torture,’ ‘surveillance,’ and ‘enemy combatants,’” after Sept. 11th – “He was unfettered.”
McKay reveals that one of the film’s challenges was to “get people to go with this stuff that would otherwise be boring.” Bale says he thought McKay was “crazy” to want him in the role, but then saw it as a challenge, deciding to come at it with “a positive point of view … to adopt Cheney’s politics, to be a vessel” … but also to “find goodness, sincerity” in the man. Adams notes that Lynne has to go from age 20 to 70 in the film and that she wanted to “give her truth and humanity,” with the thought that “this person and her family will see this movie.”
Carell says that Rumsfeld could seem like a “kindly uncle,” but then was this “terrifying bully in back of the curtain … with so much power in the White House.” McKay describes the four hours of makeup and prosthetics that Bale had to endure each day, but afterward it “felt like Cheney was in the room … it was the creepiest thing I ever saw!”
Ultimately, says McKay, he hoped to show “the nature of power,” adding “humans weren’t meant to have this much.” Finally, he wanted to provide “context and understanding as to how we got here … Cheney set the stage for where we are now.”
— Peggy Earle