Recent history can be a dicey thing to deal with in a movie if it’s not a documentary, since memories of the actual players and situations tend to be strong.
Writer and director Adam McKay takes that gamble with “Vice,” and since he’s a filmmaker normally concerned with comedy, it shouldn’t come as much of a surprise that he takes a largely bemused view of the rise of Dick Cheney – who would make a mark as the vice president serving under George W. Bush.
What’s as remarkable as the story told here is the transformation of star Christian Bale into Cheney, and it genuinely is a transformation in the truest sense of the term: If you’re at all familiar with Bale from his “Batman” turns or even “American Psycho,” you might shake your head in disbelief at the notion that he could be turned into a believable Cheney. After seeing “Vice,” you’ll shake your head in disbelief that it’s actually achieved.
Being able to convert Bale’s appearance so effectively helps “Vice” immensely, since the film also deals with Cheney’s younger years, at the start of his relationship with wife Lynne. In that part, Amy Adams also has her sessions with movie makeup, but the result isn’t quite as pronounced as it is with Bale. Still, she has to capture and maintain the essence of Lynne Cheney – who really was the woman behind the man, at least as ”Vice” tells it – and the actress does that typically well.
She’s also a measure of the fact that even though “Vice” is principally about Dick Cheney, more interesting characters surround him, which also appears to be a big chunk of the point McKay wants to make. Coming off his Oscar win last year for ”Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri,” Sam Rockwell makes a colorful second President Bush without tipping into caricature, and Steve Carell comes very close to stealing the show as Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld … who was something of a “character” during his years of political service.
For those familiar with the U.S. history of the past two decades, “Vice” becomes a list of famous names, extending to Gen. Colin Powell (played by Tyler Perry, who knows more than a bit about sly humor himself) and Condoleezza Rice (LisaGay Hamilton). There’s fun to be had in that, and it helps a viewer to hang with a storytelling approach that not everyone might be a fan of.
Still, it’s the approach that has worked for McKay before, notably in “The Big Short.” It may not be as completely successful in “Vice,” but the result is likely to keep you on your toes for just over two hours anyway.