‘Vice’ Film Review: Adam McKay’s Dick Cheney Biopic Shows the Triumph of Mediocrity

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If there’s one thing writer-director Adam McKay’s “Vice” does well, it’s highlight how white mediocrity has thrived in American politics and pop culture. But McKay also does this by way of making a mediocre movie about mediocre politician Dick Cheney played by a surprisingly mediocre Christian Bale. At some point, and at some level, you wish the white mediocrity could be reined in, but it never is.

The first problem with “Vice” is that it assumes its audience is in on its joke, which couldn’t be further from the truth. The film is even prefaced by text across the screen reading that the former vice president was “one of the most secretive leaders in history,” so telling this quasi-true story was more than a little difficult. But, “we f—ing tried.”

Hold on: They’re making a comedy about one of the most polarizing, if not downright vilified, men in American political history, one who was integral to the widely condemned invasion of Iraq after 9/11? And not actually confronting anything he did in any real way outside the lens of ludicrousness? Please, spare us.

McKay, known for highlighting the fallacy of American culture in recent films like “The Big Short,” may actually be the best filmmaker to take on a subject like Cheney, one of history’s biggest ruses. That’s not because his films are good, but because McKay seems comfortable presenting a delicate issue as a joke without encouraging or offering any room for discussion. He seems to want to explore how funny is it that someone as monotone and uncharismatic as Cheney became one of the most powerful men in the world.

Watch Video: Christian Bale Transforms Into ‘Ruthless’ Dick Cheney for First ‘Vice’ Trailer

Getting past the movie’s conceptual goofiness, “Vice” does at least show how someone like Dick rose to power: by failing upward. When we meet Dick at the start of the movie, he’s accosted by police who pull him over for driving under the influence. It’s his second DUI arrest, and his young wife, Lynne (Amy Adams), is over it. But not so over it that she’s going to leave him. At this point, it’s the early ’60s, and Lynne is acutely aware of the fact that as a woman, even one portrayed as fiercely capable as she is here, she has zero options when it comes to climbing up any corporate ladder, so he needs to do that for both of them.

Lynne, like many other women of the era, had to be satisfied as a booster and champion of her husband’s success (including the scholarship she helps secure him at Yale), even if he doesn’t deserve it. Adams’ diligent portrayal of a white middle-class American woman, enhanced by the stuffy country-club wardrobe by costume designer Susan Matheson (“The Big Short”), effectively captures Lynne’s relentless effort to remind people of her husband’s worth. To what end, though?

Also Read: Why ‘Vice’ Director Adam McKay Doesn’t Think Dick Cheney Shouldn’t Be Compared to Donald Trump

That’s where the rest of the story comes in. After Cheney arbitrarily decides to be a Republican power player after seeing then-congressman Donald Rumsfeld (Steve Carell, also doing a silly impression of an infamous American figure) throw his weight around, he rises up the GOP ranks during the Ford presidency. Then after a long period of exile, he hobnobs his way back into the White House by taking advantage of the naiveté of Republican presidential nominee George W. Bush (Sam Rockwell at his silliest) and convincing him to alter the role of vice president so that he has more power than tradition has allowed.

And that’s pretty much how a mediocre white man, whose own wife at one point remarks how disastrously unappealing he is as a public speaker, rises to power. The narrator of the film (Jesse Plemons, in a thankless role) notes that Cheney has “an ability to make his wildest ideas sound measured.”

These “wild” ideas, though, include his response to 9/11, his support of waterboarding, the phone tapping of American civilian and numerous other offenses that left a dark stain in American politics. These decisions also came at time when the only people in the room who ever seemed to question him were notably two of the only people of color in the Bush administration: Secretaries of State Colin Powell (Tyler Perry) and later Condoleezza Rice (Lisa Gay Hamilton).

Again, where is the joke here, aside from Bale acting as though he’s in a serious, dramatic movie in which he goes Method by adding on pounds and grunting his way through a half-baked performance? This is neither funny nor insightful.

Also Read: Why Annapurna Needs ‘Beale Street’ and ‘Vice’ to Score With Audiences as Well as Awards Voters

McKay tries to connect Dick Cheney’s most abhorrent actions and acquisition of power to an era ripe with decayed morality — from Richard Nixon’s resignation after Watergate to Fox News’ mission to make America “right” again. But none of it really lands, especially presented in this tone of “it’s funny because it’s true.” Though the film’s postscript explains how the concept, and continued support, of a unitary executive enables a man like Cheney to seize power, “Vice” holds neither the American people, Cheney nor anyone else in the White House accountable.

And maybe McKay wasn’t really trying to indict anyone here, which is fine. But what’s missing in this and even “The Big Short” is a strong filmmaker’s voice. He’s not saying anything, just poking fun. In an era in which the general public is organizing to confront the White House on multiple issues, this isn’t the film we need right now.



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Hillary Clinton to Guest Star With Colin Powell, Madeleine Albright in ‘Madam Secretary’ Premiere

Read on: TheWrapTheWrap.

When CBS’ “Madam Secretary” returns for its fifth season this fall, Tea Leoni’s Elizabeth McCord will be joined by real-life former secretaries of state, including Hillary Clinton.

Clinton, along with Colin Powell and Madeleine Albright, will guest star as themselves on the fifth season premiere of the CBS drama, which airs Sunday, Oct. 7 at 10 p.m. In the episode, McCord turns to the former secretaries of state to ask their advice on how to respond to a delicate situation.

The trio filmed their scenes on July 11 during the first of production on the season.

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“We’re delighted to have these three former secretaries of state be part of our season premiere,” said series creator and executive producer Barbara Hall. “It was a privilege to experience their perspectives and discourse both in and behind the scenes.”

Albright, the first woman to become secretary of state, held the position from 1997 to 2001 under President Bill Clinton. Powell served as Secretary of State from 2001 until 2005 under President George Bush. Clinton served as secretary of state from 2009 until 2013 under President Barack Obama.

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Morgan Freeman to Play Colin Powell in Biopic

Read on: Variety.

Morgan Freeman will star as Colin Powell in an independent biopic about the former U.S. Secretary of State. The film will focus on Powell’s 2003 speech to the United Nations to seek support for the Bush administration’s plan to forcibly remove Iraqi dictator Saddam Hussein, based on intelligence — later discredited — that Iraq was […]

Tyler Perry To Play Colin Powell In Adam McKay’s Dick Cheney Pic

Read on: Deadline.

EXCLUSIVE: Adam McKay has set Tyler Perry to play Colin Powell in the untitled movie about former U.S. Vice President Dick Cheney for Annapurna. Powell is the four-star general who as Bush Administration Secretary of State pressed the case for the 2003 invasion of Iraq, based on intelligence that Saddam Hussein was manufacturing weapons of mass destruction. None of the weapons Powell cited in his presentation to the United Nations was recovered after Iraq was routed…

Steve Bannon Slams George W Bush, Dick Cheney, Condoleezza Rice as ‘Idiots’ on National Security (Video)

Read on: TheWrapTheWrap.

Steve Bannon slammed what he called “the Republican establishment,” particularly leading members of former President George W. Bush’s administration, as “idiots” who failed the U.S. when it comes to national security.

“I hold these people in contempt, total and complete contempt,” Bannon told Charlie Rose in an interview airing Sunday on CBS’ “60 Minutes.” “And you know why? They’re idiots, and they’ve gotten us in this situation, and they question a good man like Donald Trump.”

The former chief strategist in Trump’s White House called out prominent Republicans who have critiqued Trump policies by name, including former national security officials James Clapper and Brent Snowcroft, former Secretaries of State Colin Powell and Condoleezza Rice, former VP Dick Cheney and Bush himself.

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“By the way, the Obama crowd, almost the same. Clinton crowd, almost the same,” he added. “It’s three administrations.”

Bannon praised Trump for showing restraint in confronting his critics from the Republican establishment who suggested the former real estate mogul would be “irresponsible” on foreign policy and security issues. “In going after the establishment, just like in national security, he’s done it in a prudent method,” he said.

Bannon then disparaged the Bush team’s own record. “The geniuses in the Bush administration that let China in the W.T.O. and genius in the Bush administration told us, ‘Hey, they’re going to be a liberal democracy. They’re going to be free-market capitalism, okay?’ The same geniuses that got us into Iraq, that’s the geniuses of the Bush administration,” he said.

Elsewhere in the interview, Bannon insisted that it was his decision to leave the White House last month, returning to his position overseeing the far-right website Breitbart News nearly one year to the day that he joined Trump’s presidential campaign.

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“I’m not cut out to be a staffer,” he told Rose. “There are certain things you can’t do. I cannot take the fight to who we have to take the fight to when I’m an adviser to the president as a federal government employee. You can’t do it.”

Bannon also defended POTUS’ ongoing use of Twitter. “This is another just standard in judgment that you rain upon him in the effort to destroy Donald Trump,” he said. “He knows he’s speaking directly to the people who put him in office when he uses Twitter. And it sometimes is not in the custom and tradition of what the opposition party deems is appropriate. You’re — you’re absolutely correct, it’s not. And he’s not going to stop.”

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He added that critics hoping that new White House Chief of Staff John Kelly might be able to restrain the president’s use of social media will be disappointed.

“General Kelly I have the most tremendous respect for and has put in very tight processes,” Bannon said. “He’s not going to be able to control it either because it’s Donald Trump. It’s Donald Trump talking directly to the American people.

“You’re going to get some good there. And every now and again you’re going to get some less good, OK?” he noted. “But you’re just going to have to live with it.”

Watch a clip of the “60 Minute” interview below.

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