Vice is clever and credible - and surprisingly entertaining.
A film about Dick Cheney is entertaining? It is - thanks to the remarkable performance of Christian Bale as Cheney, and the canny writing and direction of Adam McKay. And it is elevated by a supporting cast - led by Amy Adams as Lynne Cheney - that is spirited and effective.
Vice may be a bit depressing, too, because of the territory. Those of us who watch politics on television have seen far too much preening and pretension. "You're great." "No, you're great." "We're both great." "Listen to my podcast, it's terrific." Celebrity and self-promotion are rampant on the small screen.
It's a relief in the movies to get back to quality. Dick Cheney may be the poster guy for self-promotion, but he did it behind the surface. He was a dark shadow, not an upfront aggrandizer. Vice captures his human maneuvering and good fortune - well, maybe bad fortune.
Vice returns us to the human being. It takes us back to Cheney's college days where he was drunk and out of control. His wife jolted him back to behaving. His rise was not initially as planned as one might assume. His mentor became Donald Rumsfeld (a lively Steve Carell).
At one point the young Cheney asks Rumsfeld, "What do we believe?" Rumsfeld laughs uproariously and shuts the door still howling.
But Dick Cheney would learn Rumsfeld's lessons well.
Vice transcends the shortcomings that director McKay and company had in The Big Short (2015), also starring Bale and Carell. The Big Short was marred by a lack of boldness. Many of its characters who were actual people were given different names. Obfuscation was too invasive.
But in Vice, humanity and reality are better served. And the viewer witnesses and realizes the furtive and subterranean nature of politics.
Christian Bale - like Gary Oldman who portrayed Winston Churchill in Darkest Hour (2017) - transforms himself into the character. Both actors disappeared, and viewers didn't see actors, they see the real people.
Despite getting an Oscar for Supporting Actor in The Fighter (2010), Bale may be under-rated by the public. He gave the one outstanding performance in The Big Short, but the picture was too safe and careful.
Amy Adams, who appeared with Bale in The Fighter, gives a deft supporting performance as Lynne Cheney.
McKay likes to use narrators, and the narration by Jesse Plemons works better than in The Big Short.
Stay for the credits, because there is a scene that changes the original feeling of the ending. It represents the fracture in the present culture of America.
America is caught in a vice.