'Vice' reviews round-up: Critics divided over 'busy yet insubstantial' Dick Cheney drama starring Christian Bale

Adam McKay's take on Cheney's White House years has been criticised for its 'baffling' tone

Clémence Michallon
New York
Monday 17 December 2018 23:14
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Vice trailer

Reviews are in for Vice – and critics have been left thoroughly divided by the comedy-drama chronicling Dick Cheney's quest to become America's most powerful vice president.

Starring Christian Bale as Cheney, Amy Adams as his wife Lynn Cheney, Steve Carell as Donald Rumsfeld and Sam Rockwell as George W Bush, it marks the third time Bale and Adams have acted together on the big screen, after American Hustle (2013) and The Fighter (2010).

Coming from The Big Short director Adam McKay, Vice has drawn comparisons to the Wall-street-themed comedy-drama in style, though Vice's tone failed to convince several reviewers.

While Bale's performance earned some praise, the film, which is set to be released on 25 December, has been criticised for failing to convey a clear message on Cheney, while appearing too obvious at times.

Here’s what the reviews have said so far (spoiler warning):

The Daily Beast

Negative

What Vice is [...] is a baffling tonal hodgepodge that misuses a laundry list of cutesy narrative devices McKay had previously deployed first in The Big Short, at best marginally humanizes Dick Cheney and at worst lionises him, assaults you with a relentless retrospective of the administration’s most heinous acts but with no added insight, and seems confused about what kind of point it wants to make, in fact making none at all. The film spans Cheney’s life from 1963 through the 9/11 years and into the recent past, framing it with hokey omniscient narration that, in addition to being the impetus for the film’s wildest twist, turns Cheney’s story into a zany episode of Arrested Development. (Kevin Fallon)

Rolling Stone

4/5

In Vice, the writer-director is tossing grenades every which way — it’s a movie that’s ferociously funny one minute, bleakly sorrowful the next. The see-sawing is sure to piss off left-wingers who know Cheney’s a prick and want to see the movie bury his a**. The far right will bristle because McKay shows us that the America that made the power-mad Dick also helped produce the enraged Cheeto currently occupying the Oval Office. So who the hell is Vice for? At times, the film itself seems unsure. But McKay, who won a Best Adapted Screenplay Oscar for his 2015 comic broadside against Wall Street, The Big Short, hits pay dirt whenever he drops us into the place where the political and the personal collide. That’s the danger zone where no joke is launched without a sting in its tail. (David Fear)

Variety

(Mixed)

As outrageous, and entertainingly horrible, as much of this is to watch, like a feature-length Saturday Night Live skit staged by the editors of Politico, none of it comes close to confronting the question that I went into a two-hour-and-12-minute movie about Dick Cheney in ardent hopes of getting an answer to. Namely: Who is Dick Cheney? How did he get to be the singular domineering bureaucrat-scoundrel he is? What is it that makes this scheming man, with the cold ticker that keeps on ticking, tick?

As you watch Vice, it’s not that the film comes up with an answer that’s overly glib or unconvincing; it doesn’t come up with much of an answer at all. (Owen Gleiberman)

IndieWire

(B-)

There’s much to admire about Vice, from performances to its sprawling timeline, and yet it often seems trapped between the intentions of a broad liberal parody and more sincere attempts to understand Cheney’s essence, frequently indulging in kooky extremes before backing away with apologetic gravitas. Memo to McKay: Either make the Dr. Strangelove of the Bush II years, or don’t. (Eric Kohn)

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Time

(Negative)

The tone of Vice is jauntily Michael Moore-ish, although McKay doesn’t even seem as angry as Moore tends to be. He frequently interrupts the story with found footage or bold images. Some is zany (a blood-red heart floating in black space), some is jarring (abstract but vivid depictions of torture), but almost none of it works. McKay’s style here is the equivalent of a knowing cackle; the whole enterprise, elaborate as it is, comes off as lacking in passion. The Big Short had an exhilarating kick, but it also left you feeling queasy over the destructive misdeeds you’d just witnessed. Vice just leaves you feeling sapped, advertising its cleverness without actually being clever. (Stephanie Zacharek)

The Guardian

4/5

Vice is always entertaining and nihilist, especially when it comes to Cheney’s relationship with his beloved daughter Mary Cheney (Alison Pill), an out gay woman and same-sex marriage campaigner. Cheney’s final treatment of her in this movie made me think of Citizen Kane setting fire to his childhood sled and saying he never liked winter-sports equipment named after flowers anyway. This film has had a surge of awards season love. Could it be that there is a surge of liberal nostalgia for a time when Republican bad guys, however horrible, were at least smart and rational people who had the good taste to stay out of the limelight personally, and you sort of knew where you stood with them? (Peter Bradshaw)

Slate

(Mixed)

By the end of this busy yet curiously insubstantial film, Bale’s accomplishment, like Adams’, winds up amounting to less than it should have. This may be because McKay’s script never misses an opportunity to drive home a point with a metatexual flourish, whether it’s a news clip pointing up the irony of the vice president’s rhetoric or a cut between time frames that contrasts his youthful inexperience as a Nixon aide with his self-righteous swagger during the Bush years. Vice is so weighed down with narrative embellishments that its many simpler virtues, including a perfectly judged supporting performance from Steve Carell as Cheney’s pitiable yet loathsome mentor Donald Rumsfeld, get lost in the rococo encrustations. (Dana Stevens)

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