How to become powerful (Vice movie review)

“Vice”, directed by Adam McKay, is a story based on both – facts and a scheme: “from zero to hero”. In its centre remains Dick Cheney (outstanding Christian Bale): a talented drunkard, who – pushed by his ambitious wife (great Amy Adams) – started a career of promising bureaucrat who evaluated into a man of real power. The protagonist, as US Vice President during George W. Bush’s (amazing Sam Rockwell) presidency, become one of the most powerful people of that time – he has changed not only his country, but also the entire world and did it so effectively that we still observes results and consequences of his decisions. McKay’s doesn’t try to maintain the illusion of objectivity; on the contrary – he turns Cheney’s into an embodiment of all terrible things that are part of contemporary political practices: authoritarian impulses, populism, tendency for creating alternative facts and euphemisms that make people less worry. What’s important, despite of being a walking caricature of politician that has neither beliefs nor interests in anything different than his power, Dick is not presented as black and white character; on the contrary – in his private life he is a loving husband and father, who keeps inside a lot of tenderness and empathy. This doubleness is perfectly played by Bale, who – with extra kilos and convincing aging make up – seems to be totally immersed in his role.

What can be surprising and what is strongly highlighted by the director of the movie, the protagonist is neither very charismatic nor charming, but yet – he makes his way to the white house. He has enough stubbornness, luck and cunning, but also a strong wife who projects on him her unfulfilled ambitions and dreams. We observe the birth of a man who – from the back seat – runs America and turns the actual president into someone who is more similar to a figurehead than to a head of a country. Dick quietly gains control over successive sectors of the state and puts army of his faithful officials on important positions. First scene of the movie – the protagonist’s reaction on September 11, 2001 is repeated as a cumulative moment of the entire story – when sending American soldiers to Iraq, he makes deal of his life. The director drives the audience’s attention to reactions of the vice president’s co-workers: he shows disapproval and confusion on their faces that only multiply the impression of the protagonist’s strength – no one around him is able to express strong and unambiguous opposition.

The diagnosis presented by the creators of “Vice” is pretty obvious – politicians are embodiments of devil; they are corrupt, hypocritical, deaf to the voice of common people and danger to real (not only declared) democracy.  For bad decisions pay those who had nothing in common with making them, when those who are decisive – the big guys with power – usually remain unpunished. On this level “Vice” is tendentious and as obvious as a biography of a politician with critical comment from its author can get. But there’s something that makes McKay’s movie totally worth watching – the interesting formal side that proves that the director is open to experimental forms and knows how to make uses of a narrator who speaks directly to the audience and of autotelicity. The movie constantly denudes the fact that biography is always a construction – a fiction that sometimes wants to tell so called truth and sometimes is nothing but a personal interpretation of facts. “Vice” is a variation on a figure of the most powerful vice president in the history of United States, not a documentary that wants to keep the impression of objectivism. The strength of the movie is in malicious humour that – together with unobvious and subversive – formal side make this story of game of thrones really fun to watch.