Undoubtedly, Adam McKay’s latest cinematic adventure has ruffled some feathers. I saw VICE last week, without knowing all the controversy stirring online about this film. Sitting in the Samuel Goldwyn theater, I reasoned that Adam McKay is responsible for some of the greatest comedies of our generation and his recent jaunt into politics, The Big Short, was a fantastic example of boiling down a complicated important message into a bite-sized, witty and at times profound tale. Why would this be any different?
The credits rolled and two hours later, McKay had delivered. VICE was fun, unapologetic in its point of view, and caustic in its satire. I loved it. Christian Bale inhabits the role of Dick Cheney well, sporting a monotone rumble for a voice and an unassuming composure that’s befitting of one of the most powerful Vice Presidents in modern history. The film also features Steve Carell as Donald Rumsfeld, Sam Rockwell as George Bush, and Amy Adams as Lynne Cheney. VICE acts as a lose trajectory of Dick Cheney’s life, on-the-nose in it’s view, not really giving a shit if you disagree.
To my dismay though, there was some disagreement, mostly from critics, all of them horrified how such a film could be nominated for eight Academy Awards. To them I say, you’re missing the point. The reason everyone loved The Big Short is because it took a popular position and was brilliant in its execution of it. VICE is the same, ratcheted up with a controversial premise. Adam McKay is presenting a point and he has no interest in your desire for a fair portrait of a deeply flawed man seeking redemption. All he cares about is bringing to light a deeply flawed system that allowed men like Cheney and others to thrive, and, just as in The Big Short, the film and even the plot is the messenger; the argument is the substance.
Spoiler alert! For those who haven’t seen the film, go see it. Everyone else, please keep reading!
We see McKay’s point most exemplified in the ending. The film concludes with a House of Cards-esque monologue from Cheney directly to the camera. He gives his say, reveling in the audience’s judgment of him and convinced of the fact that he knows what’s best for the people, essentially exclaiming that serving you (the audience) has been the honor of his life. Next is a mid-credits scene, portraying a focus group being asked questions about how they likedthe movie. Two stereotypical respondents, one right-leaning and the other left-leaning, get in a fight concerning the bias in the film, while two uninterested young millenials remark how the next Fast and Furious film is going to be lit.
Ladies and gentlemen, the unvarnished point has arrived. The film isn’t about Dick Cheney at all. It’s about a system that allows men like him and others to come to power. It’s about how whole classes of citizens don’t know or don’t care about this fact, and how the actions that these duly-elected men and women are allowed to take have far-reaching consequences. We are still dealing with the fallout of decisions made by Cheney and crew eighteen years ago this September. Hundreds of thousands of people have died because of Cheney’s choices and millions more have been affected unequivocally for the worse.
And what has changed so many years later? Viewers should recognize familiar faces in the film like Mike Pence, Hillary Clinton, Jeff Sessions, Roger Ailes and others. It’s the same people doing the same things they’ve always been doing.
The old saying goes that we get the politicians we deserve. The film isn’t an indictment of Cheney necessarily; it’s an indictment of us. That’s Adam McKay’s point and that’s why he should win an Oscar for it.