Vice: Strong acting and little else

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Usama Masood Ahmad |

If there’s any common theme in this year’s Best Picture nominees it’s that they all are socially relevant in some way or another. Themes of social justice, class, racism, and politics (in government and courtroom) are prevalent through most of the nominated films. Among them is Adam McKay’s divisive and much talked about, Vice. Produced by Annapurna and starring Christian Bale, Amy Adams, Sam Rockwell, and Steve Carrel, this political dramedy recounts controversial former US Vice President Dick Cheney’s rise to success.

The film streamlines his trajectory to becoming a VP providing just enough to keep us informed but never enough to make us care about the man who launched a senseless war on Iraq. Therein lies Vice’s issue, McKay seems too unsure whether or not humanizing the Cheney is a good idea and the end result is a movie that comes off as a dark Saturday Night Live sketch (which makes sense given that McKay is a former SNL writer) rather than a biting biography.

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Throughout the film, McKay is constantly trying to make the film feel less like your run of the mill biographies (a la Bohemian Rhapsody) and in this endeavor, he takes a number of creative risks that work to varying degrees. From having the Cheney’s suddenly start conversing in Shakespearean English to rolling mock end credits halfway through the movie to make it seem like the film had ended early.

Many of McKay’s trademark flourishes of creativity range from annoying to aggravating, one example being a fantasy scene in a restaurant where Alfred Molina posing as a waiter serves Cheney’s party dishes which range from Guantanamo Bay to “a fresh war powers interpretation.” Throughout the two and a half hour run, the film does feel more experimental and in a way, theatrical than your average biographical movie.

While McKay’s direction ranges from working wonderfully in a scene to becoming irritable in the next, the stars of ‘Vice’ handle their portrayal of real-life politicians with a balanced dose of panache and verisimilitude. Bale’s transformative turn as Cheney, works not only due to his physical appearance but also due to his committed performance as an uncharismatic but savvy political figure.

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Likewise, Adam’s measured performance of Lynne Cheney brings a lot to the table and McKay is smart in his Lady Macbeth approach to her character. Others such as Steve Carell and Sam Rockwell also put up solid efforts as Rumsfeld and Bush respectively but Rockwell’s Bush is perhaps the weakest portrayal of Bush so far. So it is surprising why he, rather than Carell, is nominated as the Best Supporting Actor at the 91st Academy Awards.

This is Amy Adam’s sixth Oscar nomination and while it is unlikely that she will be able to win this year given Regina King’s hot streak in award circuits in the Best Supporting Actress category. The film’s lead actor Christian Bale has a greater chance of nabbing the Best Actor award for his performance. Vice has also been nominated in Best Picture, Original Screenplay, Editing, Director and Makeup and Hairstyling categories, but aside from the latter, I don’t see the film winning anything else.

Usama Masood Ahmad is an entertainment writer and research analyst at Global Village Space. The views expressed in this article are the author’s own and do not necessarily reflect Global Village Space’s editorial policy.