Deciphering Vice

In one of the more difficult to decipher movies in recent memory, Adam McKay tells an impossible story in an impossible time.

Adam McKay is a must see director at this point, I don’t think many would argue that. Between the Big Short, the Other Guys, and Ant-Man; McKay has proven he can take strange stories and make them entertaining. He’s able to clear confusion about potentially tricky areas of storytelling into comedic information sessions. The best example of this is the Big Short’s short explanation videos featuring random celebrities.


These videos are of course fun little breaks from the movie to further explain something complicated in a light-hearted manner. But they’re also a short microcosm of how McKay writes his movies in general.

Vice is McKay’s most ambitious project yet and clearly has the highest level of difficulty for any of his recent work. The subject matter is controversial, the actual material of the story is difficult to parse, and the timing is awesome with the brilliant politic climate we’re in. He picked a secretive, controversial, and multilayered brute of a story to tell. A story that I think he told mostly clearly and effectively.

At the most basic level Vice is a tragicomedy. There were hilarious moments that showed McKay’s comedic genius. The bedroom scene between Dick and Lynne, Steve Carell’s portrayal of Donald Rumsfeld, and most scenes with Sam Rockwell’s George W. Bush. There were tragic moments that featured portrayal and real footage of torture and war. Each of these lends itself to the film’s overall theatrical feel. This movie isn’t meant to be a documentary and a lack of historical knowledge about the Bush administration, Iraq, big oil and climate change, and plenty more; will leave you confused about the cohesiveness of the film and what it's saying.

There are reviews out there that classify this movie as an anti-conservative spite-fest. One that piggybacks off of Josh Brolin’s W and others like it. There’s certainly an aspect of that which is probably right. McKay hasn’t been a fan of Cheney and Bush for some time, which certainly fuels some of how he tells the story. But to simply write the movie off for being conservative vitriol is pretty nonsensical. McKay did his best from what I’ve been able to parse through at sticking close to historical accounts of the administration and Cheney’s power complex learned from his days in the Nixon administration.

However, there’s also a decent amount that’s wrong with this movie. It’s not McKay’s most complete and simple movie. There’s plenty of switching between timelines and confusing story angles. I still can’t tell if the overall confusion that clouds the film for the casual political junkie is due to how McKay told the story of the lack concrete information that surrounds and in some ways clouds the Bush administration as a whole. It’s probably a combination of both but McKay outright admits at the start of the movie that the information is lacking but they did their best.

The main question I wanted to ponder was whether or not this was a good movie at the most barebones level. Personally, I think its pretty undebatable that Vice is a good movie. It’s nowhere near the level of the Big Short, but then again not many movies are. Vice is entertaining, keeps you captivated, there’s amazing acting and writing, and it’s genuinely funny.

Even if you treasure Dick Cheney and the Bush administration for some reason it seems hard to argue that this movie is bad. You can argue its biased, which it is, but arguing its bad and not based on hard fact-finding is a pretty simplistic angle to take.

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