Beware the quiet man: A review of “Vice”

by The Collected Mutineer

Its Oscar season, which means that the Collective team is working its way through each film nominated in the Best Picture category. For me, this time of year comes with both a measure of excitement and a measure of reservation. I often wonder why certain films were nominated, why some were snubbed, and even more often: “did anyone actually see this movie?”

In the case of Vice, which stars Christian Bale transformed as former veep Dick Cheney, I wasn’t surprised to see its name listed. After all, Hollywood loves movies where actors are nearly unrecognizable (and boy, does Bale deliver). What I wasn’t expecting, however, was how the film was going to make me feel by the time it was over—despite some fumbled storytelling and forced analogies, Vice is an unforgiving reflection of American society.

**This review is as spoiler-free as I can make it, considering the events are public knowledge and in living memory for many of us.** 

Amy Addams and Steve Carell deliver stellar performances as Lynn Cheney and Donald Rumsfeld

Vice has already been called a lot of things by a lot of critics. Some people deemed it “clever” while others said it was just “clumsy.” I found it to be somewhere in the middle—a strange mashup of a quirky slideshow (complete with still photos and a narrator) and a contemplative documentary. We learn about Cheney’s background, his relationship with his wife, and the strange way that he entered the realm of politics. We see how he lingered in the background, quiet and contemplative.

Jack Sparrow would say that Cheney learned, and waited for the opportune moment—when the chance arose to be the next Vice President of the United States, Cheney saw an opening for more than just a “waiting around for the president to die” job. In George W. Bush, he saw a man who wanted to please his father more than he wanted take on the duty of president…and he struck.

Whether or not you believe that part of the narrative is up to you—but what follows is irrefutable, even through the heavy left-leaning lens through which the story is told. There is no doubt that Cheney changed the role of the American VP. There is no doubt that he became the most powerful man in the country, who also wanted his own interests in Halliburton to succeed. There is no doubt that he was instrumental in the war on terror, that he allowed (and encouraged) torture to become commonplace, and that he did not regret a single thing he did during his time in the White House. It’s true, and it’s terrifying.

Sam Rockwell is eerily accurate as George W. Bush

While the style of the film editing and the value of its jumpy narration can be debated, what stuck with me for days after watching it was the underlying message. The movie is less about Cheney than it is about the American people. While it’s true that not everyone agreed with the war on terror, and while it’s true that we remain heavily divided when it comes to current politics, there is one thing that citizens of the United States have become really, really good at. We stick together in at least one aspect: many would rather turn a blind eye when faced with uncomfortable truths.

Maybe it’s just how we as a country have evolved. Maybe, like Cheney, we got a taste of power and are so desperate to keep it that we flip and flop and pretend certain things don’t matter. Maybe, like Cheney, we find what is convenient and strategically useful—and sometimes, the most convenient thing is to talk about the next Fast & Furious movie than to address what really matters. Or maybe, just maybe, there are people just like Cheney all over the world, waiting for us to be complacent or ignorant or desperate before they take what they want. As the film warns us in the very beginning:

Beware the quiet man. For while others speak, he watches. And while others act, he plans. And when they finally rest… he strikes. —Anonymous

Vice has been nominated for eight Oscars, and is still playing in theaters. The 91st Academy Awards will air on February 24, 2019.

My predictions: Christian Bale will win for Best Actor. Greg Cannom, Kate Biscoe, and Patricia Dehaney will win for Best Makeup and Hairstyling.