Sunday, January 13, 2019

Vice is really good. I'm just not sure what it's really about

My wife and I went to see Vice last night. I was looking forward to this not just because of the subject matter, but also because it was written and directed by Adam McKay, who did The Big Short 3 years ago, which I loved. Here are a few brief thoughts.

1. As a work of film, Vice is pretty damn good. It's a sprawling story over 50 years, wildly stylized, sometimes funny (although not nearly as much as The Big Short was), and from an art standpoint, is really cool. It's different-looking and feeling than almost anything you'll watch this year, although it will have some looks you recognize if you're familiar with The Big Short.

2. The performances are really good, especially Christian Bale and Amy Adams and Dick and Lynne Cheney. In addition to the visual mannerisms and actual weight gain, the way Bale portrays Cheney as a person and not a cartoon is what makes this remarkable. You can see why this guy would be such a soulless bastard in accumulating power, and Adams is outstanding in playing a smart person who knows how to play the "political climber" game as well as her husband does, while having a personality he does not.

You never think "Oh, this is Amy Adams/Christian Bale playing" the character, because the characters are 3-dimensional and act within what would be rational, which is key in a biopic movie.

3. As for the message of the movie - I liked it, but I thought it was a bit confused as to which direction it wanted to take.

Is it a movie about Dick Cheney as a biography?

Is it a movie about how these men (and they're almost all men) are so mesmerized by power that they become people so amoral that they will cause damage to large amount of people and not care about what results?

Is it a movie about how Republican politicians and other powerful right-wingers conspired over 40 years to change the country in a way that has led to the wreck we are in today? (there's a clip of Ronald Reagan talking in 1980 on how he "will make America great again" which made my wife grab my leg in horror)

Is it a movie that talks about how the US did this to themselves and really doesn't want to make the effort to recognize that fact, and how many of us don't care to do the hard work to get out of this mess?

Basically McKay decided "all of the above", and really goes for it, which is great to see as a goal. But it doesn't always work, as it becomes hard to fit all of these ideas and themes together. Things like the decision to manipulate information going into Iraq and creating the void that led to ISIS flips to the Cheneys having a friendly holiday dinner with their family.

It seems like the film would be great as a 10-part TV series, but as a 2-hour movie, it's a bit messy.

Adam McKay

McKay clearly has a point of view (and if you read interviews, he despises Cheney and the right wing oligarchs that he and Bush and other GOPs worked for), but doesn't really use an outside force acting as "the voice of morality" for the film. McKay seems to want his audience to understand these things on their own, and possibly assumes that the viewers have some kind of background with the Iraq War and the Bush/Cheney presidency.

I appreciate McKay's desire to leave it up to the audience to decide what this all means. I just worry that an extremely creepy scene at the end where Cheney talks to the camera will make some people think the Dick and his fellow neocons had true beliefs and was only doing what he thought was right.

That's not what the,modern GOP is were about. The film mentions the creation of Fox News and how Frank Luntz and the GOP would organize focus groups that are used to sell their toxic BS so that enough people will vote for it. But they don't have Cheney or Rumsfeld or others say "You think the rubes will buy it?", or have some other character say "You guys are awful."

McKay doesn't let Cheney and others in the movie admit to the public that they are power-hungry bastards who wanted to use the US government and presidency to accumulate as much money and power as possible (the law be damned). And that these people have been glad to exploit, abuse and injure many Americans to benefit their small inner circle. McKay expects you to feel that and,be angry about it, but I'm not sure some will.

Bottom line- I'd recommend seeing Vice. It's a really interesting film to experience and view, and there's a lot to digest, especially if you're not as familiar with the rise of these self-interested oligarchs that are now a major part of all facets of our American political system. But I put it in the "good but not great" category because what makes it ambitious is also what keeps it from being amazing.

1 comment:

  1. Sorry Jake, but there is nothing you can say (short of “I’ll give you $1,000 if you’ll do it”) that’s going to convince me to see this film. I’ve heard it said by others that the Trump/Pence presidency makes the Bush/Cheney presidency look good by comparison. I beg to differ.

    At least with Trump there is a cartoonish, incompetent buffoonery that borders on comical. Bush and Cheney—especially Cheney—knew exactly what they were doing. Dick Cheney is nothing short of a cold-blooded reptile. Just the sight of him sends chills down my spine after all these years. Watching him portrayed in a movie theater for two hours is not my idea of entertainment on any level.