Adam McKay is in the midst of a career reinvigoration. Will Ferrell couldn't be further from the deadly serious satire of his newest effort Vice, a biopic charting the rise of Dick Cheney, attempting to account for the stupendous amount of power he managed to secure through shrewd. cloak and dagger bureaucratic tactics.
To play the portly and grunting Cheney, McKay has enlisted Christian Bale, who once again proves his deftness at changing his body for a role, here sporting a formidable gut. Bale is occasionally arresting as Cheney, his reserved head sways and deep throaty voice exuding a subtle magnetism that spearheads the tale, especially in a memorable fourth wall breaking scene towards the close of the film wherein he assures the audience of his moral integrity. The other main players are competent, as you'd expect from Oscar bait fare of this nature, but barely approach the degree of nuance Bale commands- Amy Adams as Lynne Cheney though proficient in her portrayal can feel slightly one note (which is more a reflection of a script which doesn't afford her very complex characterisation. Steve Carell and Sam Rockwell as Donald Rumsfeld and George W Bush, while entertaining and occasionally amusing, see the potential of great character actors somewhat squandered in favour of caricature.
This brings us to the main issue with Vice - a clumsy sense of brio with regards to tone and structure. McKay's feature is almost never boring, but no one would accuse it of subtlety or discipline, especially in comparison to McKay's far superior preceding effort The Big Short. Vice shares that film's kinetic, non-sequitur laden editing style, but is far less complimentary with the narrative at the film's core in Vice's case. The Big Short boasted an immediacy that Vice's decade spanning story can't hope to recreate, and by consequence, the insertion of absurdist humour and archival footage can compromise the actual narrative and render the film more than a little indulgent. It also seems slightly hypocritical; McKay's enthusiastic and hyperactive style is at odds with Vice's "cradle to grave" seemingly conventional biopic structure. While McKay swinging for the fences is occasionally chuckle inducing (the use of narrator in the film is inspired even if it feels laboured at times, and a scene in which the Cheneys recite Shakespearean soliloquys is deserving of recognition) it ultimately leaves Vice feeling far more scattershot and less nourishing as a narrative.
Even so, Bale's entertaining performance and McKay's sardonic and gleefully nihilistic energy behind the camera ensures Vice is at the very least constantly diverting and unpredictable.