'Vice': What the Critics Are Saying

Annapurna Pictures

The initial batch of reviews are mostly positive for the Adam McKay-directed film, which stars Christian Bale and Amy Adams.

The reviews are in for Adam McKay's Dick Cheney biopic Vice, starring Christian Bale as George W. Bush's former second-in-command.

The film, which will hit theaters across the country on Dec. 25, is earning mostly positive reviews so far.

While Cheney is introduced as an unassuming bureaucratic Washington insider in Vice, the film dives into the immense power he had as Bush's (Sam Rockwell) vice president.

“This is one of the most mysterious figures in American history: you read his autobiography, it's just devoid of any revelations – it's like a court deposition,” McKay told The Hollywood Reporter about the film's subject. “So I knew that we were gonna have to go deep — and I knew that Christian loves that. I know that he loves, like, going for characters that don't want you to know about them. So throughout the process, we would have long three-, four-hour meetings at his house where we just asked questions back and forth."

Read on to see what critics like and dislike about Vice.

THR's Todd McCarthy describes Vice as "a scorchingly audacious and dark tragicomedy about the man who, the film argues, became the most powerful and dangerous vice president in the history of the nation." The chief film critic praises Bale's performance, for which he "brilliantly morphs into the potato-ish frame of Dick Cheney in a nervy high-wire act of a film." Of Amy Adams' performance, McCarthy writes that the actress "in no way condescends to her character." He also writes that the film "is devastating in its assessments of Cheney's attitudes and decisions," though "it's so buoyant, its general mood so exhilarating, that it rarely seems like it's resorting to cheap shots or gags for effect." The review concludes, "Across the board in Vice, everyone has risen to the occasion of their individual challenges, none of them easy, to collectively pull off a political satire that both provokes great laughs and hits home with some tragic truths."

The Guardian's Peter Bradshaw praises Bale's performance as "a terrifically and in fact rather scarily plausible impersonation" of Cheney. He writes that the film is "entertaining and nihilist, especially when it comes to Cheney’s relationship with his beloved daughter Mary Cheney (Alison Pill)." Bradshaw adds that Vice is better than McKay's 2015 film The Big Short due to "a big, enjoyable, intelligent central performance in which Bale has the sense to do more with less."

USA Today's Brian Truitt also gave the film a glowing review with three and a half out of four stars. The critic praises McKay's "unconventional" use of Jesse Plemons as the narrator and writes that the film "does a much better job of breaking the fourth wall than in The Big Short." Truitt also compliments the "stellar" cast. "Adams is a feisty gem as a woman who lives her own quest for influence through her husband, Rockwell makes for an uncanny 'Dubya,' though Carell is just as captivating as the annoyingly scheming Rumsfeld," he writes. "And then there’s Bale, who astounds in a transformative role that is, in its own way, both dominating and understated."

Eric Kohn from IndieWire agrees that Bale's performance is "a brilliant transformation," but he's more critical about McKay's direction. Kohn writes that while Vice includes an impressive cast and a sprawling timeline, "it often seems trapped between the intentions of a broad liberal parody and more sincere attempts to understand Cheney’s essence, frequently indulging in kooky extremes before backing away with apologetic gravitas." The review continues to praise Bale's performance, though Kohn writes that McKay "fires off a lot of ideas that probably sounded better on paper." He concluded, "It’s often hard to tell if Vice hits its target or simply admires it with simplistic zeal."

Vanity Fair's Richard Lawson is much more critical of the film. "Vice is a jumble of asides and visual gimmicks and pointed digressions, much in the same way that The Big Short was. That buckshot tactic worked well enough on something as diffuse and hard to gather as the complexities of Wall Street. But when applied to what could be called a biopic — a study of one person — all that antic reeling obfuscates more than it illuminates," he writes. Lawson is also critical of Bale's performance. He says, "Bale’s uncanny apery is leaned on too heavily, as if half the film’s work is done because it nails the Cheney impression." Lawson continues his criticisms throughout the review and writes, " The worst of Vice’s indulgences is probably a framing device of sorts involving Jesse Plemons, which leans so heavily on one embarrassingly simplistic metaphor that it’s almost sweet."

Similar to Lawson, Scott Mendelson from Forbes is not impressed by the film. He calls Vice "cinematic mediocrity." While he praises Bale's transformative performance, Mendelson writes that Cheney "isn't a terribly cinematic figure, and the film’s plot beats barely scratch the surface of the history on display." The critic does say that Adams' performance is "superb," though "the rest of the buzzy cast barely amount to extended cameos."

A.O. Scott from The New York Times gives Vice a generally positive review and says that the movie "works pretty well." He writes, "The pace is jaunty, the scenes crackle with gleeful, giddy incredulity, and the dry business of statecraft attains the velocity of farce." Scott calls Bale's performance "canny and sensitive," though he notes that the film "is crowded with supporting players, figures plucked from the limbo between the headlines and the history textbooks whose names chime like alerts on an ancient cellphone."