Well, not other people's reviews. Mine. Last week, I was fortune enough to sit in on an early screening of Adam McKay's untitled new movie, formerly titled Backseat but I believe it will now be titled Vice. Which is kind of a no-brainer.
Vice is a continuation of McKay's video essay style of filmmaking, utilizing newsreel footage, voice-over and a mysterious narrator played on-screen by Jesse Plemons to go after a big picture issue. While I think this technique was better utilized in The Big Short, I enjoyed Vice more. Vice reminded me of Nixon in that it is going after EVERYTHING. Not just Dick Cheney but the birth of Fox News, think tanks, and modern conservatism and how they all reached their fever pitch with The Iraq War. In the wake of the whitewashing of George W Bush, it wants to remind viewers of two things: 1) his Presidency was a disaster, and 2) in many ways, the rise of Trump is almost the logical extension of Reagan and George W. Bush. In the sole clip of Reagan, he says in his convention acceptance speech that they will "Make America great again." This film is an incredibly important reminder.
Nixon also has an insane cast of actors who pop in and out. Bill Pullman shows up at Nelson Rockefeller for one line during the Nixon and Ford administration, for me easily the most entertaining part of the film where Cheney the Page follows Steve Carell's Donald Rumsfeld around and learns the ins and outs of power.
Vice zigs and zags to get all of this but where it fails (or rather doesn't entirely succeed) is that Christian Bale's Cheney is no Anthony Hopkins' Nixon for a host of reasons but chief among them Bale is as uncomplicated as Hopkins is complicated. McKay's take on Cheney is something I haven't seen before: he's not a mastermind, just a patient opportunist. It should be said that Christian Bale is both very funny and unrecognizable as Cheney. When he first appears on-screen in the war room using presidential authority to shoot down the planes, I gasped. I couldn't believe it was Bale. The makeup is seamless and he has Cheney's mannerisms absolutely down. That being said... the film doesn't really give Bale much to do. There's not a ton of difference between what he is doing and what Darrel Hammond did. He has no big emotional scenes. The emotional crux of his arc (his relationship with his gay daughter) is sweetly underplayed, but it is surprising as he is unexpectedly protective and accepting (at the start).
By the way, Vice has an incredible joke about forty minutes into the film (I think) that I wouldn't dare ruin. It is absolutely inspired, perhaps the highpoint of Adam McKay's prankish career.
If Bale is nominated, it will be because in the era of blockbusters Best Actor will be a barren wasteland for years to come and Bale is just in the club now. Amy Adams has a chance at a nomination. Her scenes are bigger as the film positions Lynn Cheney as the most energetic and ambitious figure in his life. Her old age makeup is fine. She gets to tell Young Dick to shape up, she gets to campaign for him when he has a heart attack... the film doesn't quite give her enough to do to warrant a win but she is the most recognizably human individual. Another nomination but if the competition is weak, who knows?
Nobody else really quite has enough to do. Carell's Donald Rumsfeld makes appearances throughout the film but his Rummy just feels like another goofy Carell performance... which might not be a bad choice. Allison Pill and Sarah Paulson don't quite have enough to do as the Cheney daughters. Sam Rockwell comes the closest, but merely because his casting as George W. Bush is as perfect as it sounds.
All of this is subject to change because when I left the screening Adam McKay kept muttering to everybody "It's just a rough cut" with a forced smile. He knows this fucker isn't done yet. It's entirely possible that some of it will be stripped down and reshaped. At this point, I'm inclined to say it's a worthy effort that I enjoyed more than The Big Short simply because I found the first half more riveting but it has a huge problem at the end: I had NO IDEA what the film was trying to say about Cheney and with a final speech it became clear they had no idea either. As I said, the whole film positions him as a patient opportunist but by the end they want us to think that he thinks of himself as a patriot. And that doesn't track.
This is what I hate about test screenings.
"If you are marching with white nationalists, you are by definition not a very nice person. If Malala Yousafzai had taken part in that rally, you'd have to say 'Okay, I guess Malala sucks now.'" ~ John Oliver