BEIRUT: It is always a great cathartic experience whenever you step into the cinema and witness something that not only challenges an audience ideologically, but also cinematically.
In his latest film, writer/director Adam McKay sets his sights on another true story, that of one of the most elusive and secretive minds in modern American political history, Richard Bruce (Dick) Cheney.
His cunning and furtive political maneuvering have altered the American political landscape in ways that will continue to reverberate for decades to come. But it is clear there is more than one Dick Cheney, a man whose reputation in the public Spector belies his private life and obvious devotion to his family.
All this, the dichotomy between Cheney, the dedicated family man and political puppet master, in McKay’s capable hands was related with intimacy, wit and narrative daring.
This is nothing that you’ve seen before.
The film is aggressive, not just in tone, but in everything that it does – it has a buried rage that keeps boiling as the film progresses, and that very anger is expressed via the performances, the cinematography, but most of all in its edit.
When looking at the screenplay, much like his Oscar-winning THE BIG SHORT, McKay layered the time-shifting narrative with unorthodox elements including an unconventional narrator, breaking the fourth wall, comedic surreal moments, documentary footage, and even a pillow-talk conversation between Lynne and Dick Cheney written in iambic pentameter.
This is to cinema what jazz is to music, a hybrid genre that is not strictly dramatic, nor is it strictly comedic but rather sharply uses elements from both in a harmoniously aggressive fashion, and it works perfectly.
McKay uses an unconventional narrator in the form as Kurt, played by Jesse Plemons, a metaphorical character, an audience surrogate who takes on various guises throughout the film – a character that represents the everyman and feels the way most of us do.
It’s clear that this is McKay’s ideological input, his egalitarian concerns and how people are affected by the enormous changes that occur within a nation.
Kurt is not rooted in politics but rather in American life, and this was a clever way to weave in and out of the story with emotional affect.
What shocks the most in this film, and what will most likely fascinate some people while completely turning other people off, is the structure and form by which the film is edited.
The film is fearless.
Mixing actual footage, with dramatized scenes, and juxtaposing them in a way that signified a greater or more layered meaning, gives VICE a very unique, albeit strobe-like, rhythm.
There is a sequence that deals with Cheney’s involvement with the torture interrogation laws in regards to terrorism, in it McKay intermixes the political set up, with the torturing, along with politicians meeting for a steak lunch while looking at menus and a maître-D who lists things like, “Enemy Combatant, Foreign Prisons, Guantanamo Bay, and much, much more.”
This is the power of cinema expressed in a matter of seconds.
Christian Bale’s already established buzz and Golden Globe win for his performance as the lead character is more than deserved seeing as to how Bale completely disappeared into the character, and gave him real gravitas and power.
To add onto this, McKay’s depiction of Lynne Cheney as the driving force behind her husband’s ascent, is quite surprising in a very good way.
Amy Adams’s nuanced performance expresses how Lynne was so much more than the typical political wife and cheerleader, while stressing on her intelligence and strategic way of thinking, largely living her ambitions through her husband and eventually achieving some significant accomplishments of her own.
The remaining ensemble from Oscar-nominee Steve Carell who played Donald Rumsfeld, to Oscar-winner Sam Rockwell who portrays George W. Bush, every actor delivers astounding and believable performances.
McKay’s objective portrayal of all of these characters is quite refreshing in a cinematic climate that seems to be quite determined to pander and preach one particular political agenda.
VICE is a profoundly ambitious film that unpacks forty years of American politics and how American culture and society have changed over time.
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