Vice ★★★½

Should note off the bat that I found this to be completely engrossing and deeply satisfying as a pointed declaration of Dick Cheney's villainous and profoundly unethical abuse of his power at a crucial point in American history. BUT, this is like seven different films shoved into one which occasionally soars, often stumbles and consistently renders itself a mess. I loved The Big Short, I know many reduce it to McKay yelling about how we as a population just aren't mad enough about what's happening but I genuinely found it (as someone interested in economics) to be an interesting, accessible and thematically compelling retelling of a financial crisis that most people don't care to understand. Vice operates much differently, and I think McKay's in-your-face style clashes with the biopic elements of this. Make no mistake, this is a grimly funny movie that's only interested in Cheney as a target, rather than an actual character. In the film's more free-ranging, eccentric moments; this is a strength. McKay is creative and is able to convey the rage and absurdity of these events well; but the constant transition between scattershot comedy and traditional biopic is jarring and clumsily executed. The whole thing just feels like a mess, albeit a lovable one.

An image, an idea, that McKay commonly falls back on in this is our culpability in Cheney's evil genocide; articulated quite clearly at the end of the film but also throughout the entire experience. We see Cheney casually condemn a name to imprisonment in an office, and McKay cuts to a man being shoved into a van, stripped, gagged and shipped off to be tortured. Cut back to Cheney asking who's next. Later McKay cuts repeatedly between Cheney and his family eating dinner as a sort of picturesque, prototypical vision of an American family to bombs detonating and annihilating hundreds of nameless victims in some Iraqi village. It's sad but profoundly honest; a foundational truth that's existed throughout America's complicated history and one we've never truly wrestled with. The conflict between our steadfast belief in liberty, equality and justice as a nation and our history of segregation, injustice and oppression; both domestically and abroad. It's a contradiction that drives many to an absolutist cynicism, but the enduring "promise of America" remains (I believe, at least) a net positive over the course of the country's existence. I think McKay wrestles with this complicated moral fabric openly and enthusiastically; perhaps at times in an indulgent, infantile way, but I sincerely appreciate his willingness to make a statement. Vice is a movie that's bound to be divisive; a criminally sloppy but refreshingly earnest movie. I dug it.

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