Film Review: “Vice”

VICE
Starring: Christian Bale, Amy Adams and Sam Rockwell
Directed by: Adam McKay
Rated: R
Running time: 2 hrs 12 mins
Annapura Films

Our Score: 5 stars

On the animated program “Lil’ Bush,” which was a comical look at the administration of President George W. Bush, his vice-president, Dick Cheney, was portrayed as possibly the son of Darth Vader. If Adam McKay’s latest film is to believe, Cheney may in fact actually have been Emperor Palpatine!

Dick Cheney (Bale) is a man who came from a troubled youth – lots of drinking and carousing – and rose to be within a heartbeat of
holding the highest office in the world. And, if the film “Vice” is to be believed, he did it in the most ruthless way possible. You have to love a movie that informs the viewer at the beginning that it is a “true story,” than clarifies itself by explaining it’s as true as it can get considering nobody really knows anything about Dick Cheney.

After being kicked out of school and forced to live with his wife, Lynne (Adams), in her parents house, Cheney is given the ultimatum from the missus to either make something of himself or hit the road. He is chosen to be part of a group of young men whose job is to assist members of the U.S. House of Representatives in Washington D.C. and is chosen by the straight-shooting Congressman from the state of Illinois, Donald Rumsfeld (Steve Carell). Sensing a kindred soul – or lack of one – Rumsfeld takes Cheney with him as he progresses through the ranks of government. And, like Michael Corleone, he teaches Cheney to keep his friends close and his
enemies closer.

I have always marveled at the talents of Christian Bale. From first seeing him at age 12 in “Empire of the Sun” through “American Psycho,” the Christopher Nolan Batman trilogy and his Oscar winning turn in “The Fighter,” he has always impressed me. So when I say that here he gives the best performance of his career, give me credit that I know what I’m talking
about. In fact, if you didn’t know Bale was in this film I would dare you to tell me you know it’s he portraying Cheney, so immersed in the character is he. He is joined note for note by Adams, the strong woman-behind-the-the man, who adds another award-worthy performance to her repertoire! Throw in Carell, Sam Rockwell as George W. Bush and Tyler Perry as Colin
Powell, and you have a true actors workshop on display.

The other half of this film is the script from director Adam McKay. Long known as Will Ferrell’s partner in crime on such films as “Anchorman” and “Talladega Nights,” McKay hit the big time by winning the Best Adapted Screenplay Award for his film “The Big Short.” “Vice” is told in a similar way, with narration and flashbacks that make you chuckle while still lamenting the fact that this guy was basically helping to run our government. With no apologies. In fact, when the incident where Cheney, on a hunting trip, accidentally shot a fellow hunter in the face, we are shown the news clip where the VICTIM actually apologizes for causing any inconvenience to the Cheney family!

Dick Cheney has been with us for over four decades. Like cockroaches and Keith Richards, he may never go away. But if there is one positive to his story, it’s that it gave us what, in my opinion, is the best film of 2018!

Film Review: “Three Billboards Outside of Ebbing, Missouri”

Starring: Frances McDormand, Woody Harrelson and Sam Rockwell
Directed By: Martin McDonagh
Rated: R
Running Time: 109 minutes
Fox Searchlight Pictures

“Raped While Dying.” “And Still No Arrests?” “How Come, Chief Willoughby?” The billboards put up by Mildred Hayes (McDormand) hope to shed more light on the rape and violent murder of her daughter Angela. But the billboards aren’t the powder keg, they’re the fuse. The bright red billboards with black lettering quickly become the talk of the town, despite being placed on a rural stretch of untraveled road outside the sleepy Missouri town of Ebbing. Frustration turns to anger. Anger turns to rage. Rage turns to violence.

As “Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri” slowly unravels and reveals it’s hodgepodge of townsfolk and officers in the local police department, we learn that justice isn’t black and white, literally and figuratively. We learn that Chief Willoughby (Harrelson) isn’t incompetent or ignoring Angela’s murder, but the case has simply gone cold. We do however learn he acts as warden of his own prison that houses racist, bigoted officers, some of whom are drunk and known throughout town for savagely beating minorities.

What director and writer Martin McDonagh does so wonderfully is avoid propping the two opposing sides, Mildred and the Ebbing Police Department, as the heroes and villains. All the characters in his film are flawed creatures, and McDonagh twists the audience’s expectation on their heads and plays with our distaste and sympathy simultaneously. Despite the obvious commentary on contemporary on social and political topics, McDonagh constantly reminds us that morality is a fluid beast.

For a film with such dark thematic content, like rape, murder, racism and hatred, there’s a lot of witty dialogue and wicked humor. It’s a perfect counter-balance to some of the film’s more gripping moments, serving as an exhale during those tense scenes. There’s even a twinge of sardonic humor for those guilty enough to laugh at it. The laughs are mainly led by Mildred in her most ferocious moments or when one of Ebbing’s most incompetent boys in blue, Officer Jason Dixon (Rockwell), wants to retort.

McDonagh is a master at introducing characters and automatically telling the audience who they are, but at the same time manipulating their actions in realistic manner that subverts our expectations. Caught in the war between Mildred and the police is the townsfolk, sometimes offering their condolences in private, but publicly taking the side they disagree with. It’s an honest portrayal of small town politics, how rumors become truth, and how sometimes no one’s really right or wrong in an argument.

Led by an outstanding cast, “Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri” is a smartly written film capturing the raw emotion of tragedy, it’s tangled aftermath and how attempts at a resolution sometimes leads to more pain. It conveys a lot of unspoken truths without providing a lot of answers. If “Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri” has a message, it’s not one of optimism or pessimism, but it’s complicated, just like the characters populating this rustic Show-Me state town.