In the Dark - Enjoying this film is no vice

Amy Adams and Christian Bale star in McKay’s ‘Vice’

Adam McKay likes taking those pesky parts of history we tend to forget and turn them into movies lest we forget why we are where we are today. Take “The Big Short” about the house lending meltdown of 2008. We don’t like to remember there were some who sounded the alarm bell about what was happening in plain sight and then it happened, sending the economy spiraling with it. 

 Acting chameleon Christian Bale played an eccentric doctor turned investor in that one. A guy who dressed in graphic tees, shorts and worked in his bare feet as he listened to heavy metal rock all day. He’s traded that outfit for a coat and tie in “Vice” to play Dick Cheney, vice president to our 43rd president, George W. Bush, and, who, as McKay sees it, is one of the most insidious, power hungry Veeps to ever hold the office and whose lasting legacy is the mess in the Middle East that still exists to this day.

 The same slightly cynical breezy style that consists of comic overtones with an undercurrent of gravitas permeates this movie as well as McKay adapts an almost documentary tone beginning with Cheney, the younger, a two-time Yale drop out and ne’er do well who racked up two DUIs in his 20s, before his childhood sweetheart, Lynne (Amy Adams), told him to make something of himself or she was walking. 

 From that point his ascent mirrors that old adage about what rises to the top. In this case, Cheney tied himself to a young Congressman Donald Rumsfeld (Steve Carell), and road his coattails all the way into Nixon’s White House and finally becoming chief of staff to Gerald Ford. 

 A 10-year term as a congressman from Wyoming followed until Cheney is asked by Bush to head up his running mate search and Cheney realizes this could be his last big grab for power by talking Bush into relinquishing duties such as foreign policy to him. The rest as they say is history, but McKay makes it worth revisiting. For some it will be their first history lesson in wars in Iraq and Afghanistan and for others there might be new things to learn or long forgotten things to remember.

 McKay dwells on Cheney’s interpretation of the constitutional powers of the president where if the president does something, even something as reprehensible as torturing someone with waterboarding, then it is to be assumed it is alright because the president is, in a sense, above the law. 

 Facilitating the story are two devices McKay uses—a lot of actual news archival footage to narrate the current events and an interlocutor named Kurt, played by Jesse Plemons, who pops up now and then to move the story along and point up Cheney’s ambition. If you’re wondering if there is a connection between Kurt and Cheney, there is, and you’ll never see it coming.   

 Enough cannot be said about the brilliant casting beginning with Bale who gained over 45 pounds to disappear into the pasty mien of Cheney. He even captures his steely gaze and lopsided smile that seemed more of a sneer. Sam Rockwell, with the help of prosthetics, settles into the role of G.W. Bush after a rocky start that seems more of a caricature. And, Adams as Lynne, Cheney’s wife and really a co-conspirator, emits a Machiavellian vibe that at one point even has the two engaged in a little pillow talk quoting lofty, scheming Shakespeare quotes as they plot their next power grab.

 Other cast standouts are Tyler Perry as Colin Powell and Carell as Rumsfeld. Make up and wigs can do a lot to shape a character, but most of the actors seem to really inhabit their historical counterparts. Get out your politician score card to check off the roster because it gets thick in the Bush administration scenes. Look there’s Bill Richardson. And, that’s Karl Rove. Wait until the credits to see if you were right. 

 History can decide about Cheney. After five heart attacks and a heart transplant in 2012, he’s mostly out of the public eye. His response to “Vice” would probably be something along the lines of “who cares.” Which is pretty much McKay’s point.