Vice ★★★

Adam McKay does another scrapbook satire of real-life American crisis from the recent past. Where it succeeds is, like "The Big Short", in presenting a movie with a different shape to it than most, scurrying off on all kinds of tangents away from a standard linear narrative, acting like an infographic come to life and breaking the fourth wall repeatedly. You might describe it as a Michael Moore documentary directed by Oliver Stone. It's constantly smirking, a little smug, and sometimes digestibly educational about a harrowing topic like the former, but also with its impressionistic montages, cutaways, symbolism, and oblique density of information it has the messy, overstuffed, coked-out vibe of the latter.

And the performances are exciting too, even if there's something familiar about all of them - Christian Bale growing himself into a whole different person and method acting to the extreme, Amy Adams wearing a wig and lots of makeup to play a dominant significant other, Steve Carell playing a gigglier version of his Mark Baum from "The Big Short", Sam Rockwell being rascally. Each is a convincing, transfixing transformation, Bale's especially, though Rockwell does an amazing Dubya himself.

Where it stalls is in synthesizing all this talk of Cheney as a quiet man of formidable scheming intellect with the things he actually did in his lifetime as a political power figure and making great drama out of that. The movie itself admits that as a man of few words and a trail of well-kept secrecy, there's only so much it can give us before dipping into speculation, yet it doesn't even do much of that either. Other than a biographical chart of his career dating back to the '60s and a few suggestions of how he might have behaved behind closed doors, the movie doesn't offer much of any new information or insight into Dick Cheney that we the public didn't already know or infer ourselves. Clearly Adam McKay is fascinated by this man, and repulsed too, and those feelings are conveyed throughout the movie so good job, but it doesn't quite justify the very effort made to make this movie in the first place. I'm sure scholars will extract meaning from its filmmaking choices and subtext for years, and I hope to hear some of it, but by the end I felt like I was over-analyzing its mic drop moments (like when he turns to the camera and delivers a chilling statement to us) when they might have contained much less than I was giving them credit for. For all of its detours, bells and whistles, the movie comes off as kinda basic at its core.

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