To quote one of this reviewer’s film professors, “George Bush wasn’t evil. He was just an idiot.”
If you don’t know what to watch next, Adam McKay’s Vice (2018) is available on Amazon Prime. The biographical comedy-drama was nominated for eight Academy Awards, including Best Picture.
Greg Cannom, Kate Biscoe, and Patricia Delaney won for Best Makeup and Hairstyling.
Narrated by Kurt (Jesse Plemons, a fictional War on Terror veteran), the film charts the career of former Vice President of the United States Dick Cheney (Best Actor nominee Christian Bale), as well as his marriage to Lynne Vincent (Best Supporting Actress nominee Amy Adams).
President George W. Bush (Best Supporting Actor nominee Sam Rockwell) only runs for office to please his father, former President George H.W. Bush (John Hillner), and so delegates executive power to his vice president.
Cheney’s Machiavellian political ambition leads to party polarization in America, the rise of ISIS in Iraq, and historically low approval ratings for himself.
McKay is the recipient of three nods from the Academy as co-producer, director, and writer of the original screenplay. In addition, editor Hank Corwin was up for an Oscar.
The two collaborated together on The Big Short (2015), another historical black comedy for which McKay, Corwin, and Bale were nominated (with McKay and Charles Randolph taking home the trophy for Best Adapted Screenplay).
The Big Short also marks another critique of the Bush years, namely the financial crisis of 2007 and 2008.
McKay and Corwin’s creative partnership is as vital as the professional chemistry between Martin Scorsese and Thelma Schoonmaker, with Corwin cutting satirical meta-references from beyond the fourth wall into McKay’s production.
This stylization underscores the absurdity of the apocalyptic incompetence in the Bush Administration that empowered an Antichrist like Cheney to reign supreme across the post-September 11 geopolitical hellscape.
The cosmetic Oscar is well-earned, as the star-studded cast transform themselves under McKay’s direction into their characters so unrecognizably, the line between “parodical imitation” and “masterful tour-de-force” is crossed.
Bale, Adams, Rockwell, Steve Carrell (Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld), Don McManus (Chief of Staff to the Vice President David Addington), and Camille Harman (consultant Mary Matalin) all characterize Cheney and his inner circle with a gravitas that transcends appearances.
But Vice speaks with Plemons’s voice, and his Iraq and Afghanistan vet is one of many victims of Cheney’s plunder, one of the best candidates to tell this story.
But not the best.
It would have been more morally sound to hear from an Arab or Muslin arbitrarily detained and tortured at one of the U.S. government’s international “black sites.”
Furthermore, the movie’s farcical tone begs the question: is it artistically just to turn eight years of corruption and war crimes into a punchline?
As tempting as it is to make fun of Bush (who once used the word “misunderestimated” in a sentence), his regime’s record of human rights violations is no laughing matter.
“Irregardless,” Vice as an historic document is strikingly relevant to the Trump era, and if that means we learned nothing from our recent past, then maybe the joke is on us.