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Film Review: VICE Assumes Too Much of Subject and Too Little of Audience

Written by: Hannah Tran | December 28th, 2018

Film Poster: VICE
Film Poster: VICE

Vice (Adam McKay) 1 out of 4 stars

About midway through Adam McKay’s latest attempt to mansplain the atrocities of contemporary politics to us, he decides so condescendingly to roll the film’s end credits. That’s right, it was an aggressive attempt at satire complete with corny epilogues for each member of the idyllic Cheney family. I knew there was over an hour left, but as I watched Christian Bale and Amy Adams’ names scroll down the screen, I began to seriously wonder if I would be better off pretending that I didn’t. I decided to stay to witness the inevitable downward spiral of the figure that McKay assumes we know so little of. I made the wrong choice.

Before we even see Dick Cheney near the White House, it is clear that Vice will be yet another entry into McKay’s newly realized political film canon. The same devices that are used here can be seen in his marginally more interesting, but undeniably superior 2015 film, The Big Short. Both are treated with the same strange mix of formality and documentary which proved to have worked better the first time around. McKay is similar to his rendition of Cheney in that you can never tell if his choices are calculated or truly careless. In Vice, every docu-style bit of action gets jumbled in with the unrelenting multitude of stylistic decisions that are at best confusing and at worst annoying. In Vice, we get less Margot Robbie bubble baths and more mysterious Jesse Plemons heart-to-hearts. This new mode of narration is less effective throughout, but ultimately turns into one of the more satisfying and unexpectedly worthwhile moments in the film.

However, as the string of narrators explain away the ills of the financial crisis or the funnest of facts about Dick Cheney’s personal life, it becomes increasingly clear what element The Big Short has that Vice is desperately lacking: a story that needs explaining. While big financial fallouts and the obtuse lingo of hedge fund managers may require more of a simplified perspective for the audience, the inhumanity of Cheney’s decisions during his vice presidency needs less. McKay constantly expects so little of his viewer that he compartmentalizes major political figures into villains that seem to belong more so to the likes of Harry Potter. In his efforts to show the longstanding atrocities of a political party, he commits the sin of promoting one member of that party to an overly enigmatic caricature that resembles God more than a politician.

Film Image: VICE
Film Image: VICE

Vice’s best moments are lived when examining Cheney as a person. This is rare and probably undeserved, but it provides Bale and especially Adams the space to showcase some of their finest acting since a year or two ago at least. As no surprise, you’ll be seeing a lot of them this awards season. However, even their best efforts might not be worth the price of admission.         

If you’re looking for the complex, informative comedy that Vice seemed to promise, you’ll have to keep looking. If you’re looking for a not only condescending, but ultimately boring glimpse into the least comical of political figures, I have just the movie for you.     



Hannah Tran is a film critic and filmmaker from Las Vegas, Nevada. Hannah works as a film screener for the Las Vegas Film Festival and publishes an independent zine focused on highlighing Asian American filmmaking.

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