Don’t believe the hype when it comes to biopic ‘Vice’

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With a deft hand and an earnest attempt to entertain, the Dick Cheney biopic “Vice” ultimately fails to be a movie worth subjecting yourself to.

How much do you really want to sit through two hours about Dick Cheney?

“Vice” is considered an Oscar contender, and January is about when Rome Cinemas 8 starts showing the independent Oscar hopefuls. Now is a good time to visit the theater and check out the award season favorites that only got limited releases in bigger cities last year.

“Vice” is critical of Cheney’s behind-the-scenes roles in the George W. Push Presidential Administration and the war in Iraq, so there’s no getting around your opinion of this movie being largely shaped by your political leanings.

Are you a liberal who doesn’t like Cheney? Prepare for a detailed listings of all of Cheney’s supposed crimes and how he will never face any repercussions for any of them. Are you a conservative who likes Cheney? Prepare for a near-constant takedown attempt that offers few redeeming qualities of the man.

Starting out in his drunken, Yale dropout 20s, “Vice” tells a mostly linear story of how a young Dick Cheney promised his wife he’d be a better man, and then he took that promise, wrapped it up in a lot of purportedly shady business and became arguably the most powerful vice president in the history of the country. The film focuses on Cheney’s preternatural talent for power plays and political gamesmanship, while also giving ample time to his solid family life.

The film is written and directed by Adam McKay, who previously won an Oscar for his earlier film “The Big Short”, which found entertaining and flashy ways to tell the literally by-the-numbers story of the 2008 financial collapse. “Vice” takes a similar approach to the story of the former vice president, with McKay using a number of film-making tricks and styles to try and spice up an otherwise boring and depressing story.

McKay mostly succeeds, but as he admits at the very start of “Vice”, his subject matter is very elusive.

“Vice” lacks the punch and pizzazz of “The Big Short”. This seems largely because nobody really knows what Dick Cheney was thinking except the man himself, and he’s not about to spill the beans to a critical filmmaker. So while McKay pulls out all of the stops to try and make Cheney’s rise to power entertaining to watch, the film can’t deliver a thorough enough message about what it all means.

That is no fault of actor Christian Bale in the lead role. Bale becomes Cheney for the film, from gaining some extra weight to matching mannerisms and voice. It’s uncanny. And just as Gary Oldman won Oscar gold last year for transforming himself into Winston Churchill for “Darkest Hour”, it’s likely Bale will be up for similar honors.

In the end, “Vice” knows what it wants to say about this complicated man, but Dick Cheney is apparently so complicated and secretive that the film simply can’t deliver a defining conclusion. It tries, but there’s little it can really accomplish.

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