Best Picture Countdown: “Vice”

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Vice tells the story of Dick Cheney, allegedly the most powerful vice president in American history. Despite being scattered at times, Vice is overall an engaging film for its target audience, taking the viewer through Cheney’s highs and lows and painting a picture of one of the main powers behind the Bush administration. For an alleged satire, Vice is low on laughs and instead focuses on the development of political rhetoric during Cheney’s time in Washington. 

Christian Bale impresses as Cheney, showcasing his journey from a bumbling, aggressive college dropout to a collected and reserved politician. Bale plays the part well, yet one of the film’s biggest issues is its written portrayal of Cheney. The film makes him out to be a caricature of a politician with little to no personality beyond his political goals — a more nuanced look at Cheney as a person would have made for a more compelling watch. 

One area where the movie does surprisingly well is in depicting Cheney’s involvement in political affairs. While some liberties are definitely taken, Cheney did have an unprecedented level of power for his post. He made several crucial decisions, including those regarding the 9/11 attacks depicted in the film’s opening scene, and controversial intelligence decisions leading to the invasion of Iraq. 

For any follower of American politics, Vice is a must-watch movie, as its portrayal of power dynamics and relationships within government is truly enthralling. Cheney leverages every inch of ground he can gain, providing a masterclass in power dynamics on his way to the top and leaving viewers who enjoy tension of that sort unable to look away. 

Yet the film’s greatest strength is also its biggest weakness, as viewers without any particular interest in politics will consider it a snoozefest at best, with its action scenes holding little meaning or impact. This is particularly true for international students, of which Oberlin has its fair share. If you have lived much of your life outside of the U.S. and have not taken a specific interest in American politics — which, I’ll admit, I have — this may not be the movie for you, as you will likely have little stake in its characters.

The movie also suffers from more than its fair share of structural issues. A biopic aiming to be somewhat true to its source material, Vice is caught between a rock and a hard place, as Cheney’s life doesn’t follow a three-act structure. Rather than seeking to artificially manufacture tension — I’m looking at you, Bohemian Rhapsody Vice accepts its scattered nature, with tension rising and falling as it did in Cheney’s life. While this does give the movie a certain life-like quality unique even among biopics, it definitely detracts from the viewing experience, making it harder to stay engaged over the course of the film.

All told, Vice is a movie for political enthusiasts. It gives an interesting and in-depth look into both Cheney’s rhetoric and the politics of his time. Yet as a movie in isolation, it is far from a success, failing to interest non-politically motivated viewers and facing serious structural issues. While it is not completely out of the running for Best Picture, many people — myself included — would be surprised and disappointed if it won.

 

Kabir Karamchandani and Liz Stewart both predict that Roma will win Best Picture at the Oscars. 

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