Vice ★★★½

Democracy is broken, and it's still anyone's bet as to the extent to which those who uniformly bankrupted the system will get away with it. There's a single thematic burden depressing any and all art made in 2018: the implicit moral and existential reaction in every action. Like Ethan Hawke's tortured minister in First Reformed, the world watches the liberal compass of the last hundred years of history dissipate in a regressive and seemingly irreparable stalemate. Yet this is how the political prequel to the greatest ideological threat of American record gets to die—with thunderous applause.

Chances are those who walk out of Vice, writer-director Adam McKay's transparently ambitious (i.e., broad) Dick Cheney biopic, either won't bat an eye at Cheney's double-down martyrdom or will think that McKay is too soft. In reality he's lost none of the hawkish touch of 2015's Oscar-winning The Big Short, about the lead-up to the 2008 subprime mortgage debacle, though perhaps the ongoing nightmare of now makes less recent recall more difficult to navigate. There's no end in sight.

All of this may obfuscate the fact that Vice is predicated as a narrative, a story entwined with its own cause and consequence. "We tried our fucking best," the film's opening screen teases, but if there's a brilliance to Vice it's that McKay knows any attempted erosion of Cheney's dynamism only divulges further layers. Instead, the movie ticks along in awesome spite of him, with a labyrinthine, connect-the-dots glimmer. Cheney is, by virtue, the thankless villain of modern polemical rhetoric, who cast such a shadow behind the legacy of others that subterfuge in turn came to define his own.

Though seeing Dick reach for a pastry in the Oval Office, cabinet meekly gawking as he scarfs down the remaining crumbs from his fingertips, you'd be surprised he could lift a pen. As acted by Christian Bale, the metamorphic thespian forty pounds heavier, he's a man gently receding into his own bulky stature. Early in Vice, after his second D.W.I. arrest in 1963, a twentysomething Cheney is confronted by his future wife Lynne (Amy Adams) about his lowlife habits.

"You are a zero," she spats. Bale's eyes drift, cloudy and lizard-like, and in this domestic ultimatum the Dick of myth appears to be born. Later, the glassy gaze returns, as he calculates into space the possibilities of playing running mate to George W. Bush (Sam Rockwell)—"Bush's kid," as his congressional mentor and the eventual Secretary of Defense, Donald Rumsfeld (Steve Carell, all talking-teeth boorishness), strictly refers to him.

I'd argue that Vice is more of a movie than The Big Short, even if it was always fated to be too much, because it is. It's a work of hysterical appetite, a deeply critical requiem for a certain masculinized ethos of instability as a component of personal pride. Its comedy cuts deepest in small moments, such as the image of Rumsfeld boxed into an empty office corner like Jonathan Pryce in Brazil, stashed prisoner of his own regulatory war, as Cheney ascends the throne.

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