Vice ★★★

My first straight Adam McKay movie - because no, I haven't seen The Big Short - and it seems to me that it wants to have its cake and eat it too. On the one hand, it wants to satirise/spoof Oliver Stone's political dramas like JFK, Nixon (in particular) and of course W. with their portentous air, collage-like editing and majestic scores, whilst on the other it seems to agree with Stone that American politics are full of wholly corrupt spawns of the devil so drunk on power and skilled at Machiavellian manipulation that they would make despotic Roman emperors like Caligula and Nero look like kindhearted, liberal angels.

And yet, there's never really a sense of who Cheney is and what motivates him. Sure, McKay wants to depict him as a Macbeth figure, spurred on by the ambitions of a ruthless wife (and he even goes as far as dropping in a mock-Shakespearean exchange between the pair in their bedroom as Cheney considers becoming George W. Bush's running mate) but the film never really digs deeper beyond that to appreciate what makes the man tick beyond giving him a rather tonally bizarre straight to camera unapologetic monologue to explain his actions. The film wants to depict him as evil, yet it also wants to remind us - like the old claim that Hitler loved his dogs - that Cheney was a great family man utterly devoted to his children, specifically his gay daughter, Mary. Instead, the film is populated by mini-satirical revues that wouldn't look out of place in any political sketch show (the Alfred Molina cameo; which feels like something from Beyond the Fringe or Spitting Image) and tricks like Jesse Plemons' Man For All Seasons on-screen narrator, rather than any clear focus beyond Bush's administration did bad things. Well yeah, but that's hardly news now is it?

Perhaps most damaging of all though, Vice is possessed with a deeply obnoxious, self-satisfied and smug air that muddies even that message, because surely this approach will only continue to alienate what Trump refers to as 'the silent majority' who view the supposedly liberal establishment with contempt and suspicion. In that respect, I would say that Vice is a film that can only hope to preach to the choir, but as I am very much part of that choir and the film still left me with these concerns, I have to doubt the veracity of even that potential.

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