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Non-Review Review: Vice

Vice feels at once like an extension of both Adam McKay’s work on The Big Short and recent innovations on the biographic picture format codified by I, Tonya.

At its core, Vice is the biography of a man whose defining attribute is how unassuming he appears. The opening text lays out the challenges facing the production team in trying to structure a biographical film around a man who has spent his life lurking at the edge of the frame, how hard it can be to extrapolate his inner workings from the outline of his journey through the world. Dick Cheney worked very hard to erase his own footprint; it is with no small irony that the film notes how thoroughly Cheney cleared his own email servers.

No need to be a Dick about it.

The film’s anonymous narrator, himself framed as perfectly average individual, repeatedly stresses how “ordinary” the central character presents himself. At one point, he advises a former colleague that the new standard operating procedure is “softly, softly.” Similarly, the documentary acknowledges the lacunas in the narrative that is constructing, how difficult it is – to evoke a different Shakespearean play than he chooses to quote – “to see the mind’s construction in the face.”

The result is fascinating, a character study that becomes an exploration of systemic flaws and inequities. Vice is a story about a man who appears to have no fixed political beliefs, no strong political identity, no clear political voice. Instead, Vice is a study of the politics of power as politics of itself, a tale about a man whose central political motivation is not ideological or existential, but purely practical. Vice is the tale of the will to power of a perfectly mundane and average individual, and the carnage wrought on his journey towards that power.

Vice City.

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Non-Review Review: The Wolf of Wall Street

In 1987, Oliver Stone’s Wall Street was arguably too subtle in its criticisms of the Wall Street mentality – the philosophy that “greed, for lack of a better word, is good” or that enough can never really enough. After all, the film apparently inspired a whole generation of stock brokers and investment managers, with quite a few aspiring to be their generation’s Gordon Gekko – when the movie’s central point was that Gekko was hardly an idol to worship.

This would seem to explain the rationale of Scorsese’s The Wolf of Wall Street, a film that makes Stone’s brutal evisceration of Wall Street excess seem positively mild-mannered. Indeed, the film all but directly acknowledges this fact in an early scene where a “hatchet job” of an article from Forbes (the same article that would lend Belfort his sobriquet “Wolfie!”) prompts a massive upsurge in job applications for Belfort’s Stratton Oakmont.

The money shot...

The money shot…

So, understanding the need to go a bit bigger and larger, The Wolf of Wall Street introduces us to its protagonist, Jordan Belfort, snorting cocaine out of the bodily orifices of a prostitute, and yet somehow descends deeper and deeper into acts of debauchery and excess. It’s an unrelenting and energetic film, that is exhausting and exhilarating. It’s less of a structured story and more a three-hour laundry-list of depravity.

While the last hour of the film (the inevitable “it all comes tumbling down… or does it?” act) can’t maintain the forward moment that make the first two so exhilarating, The Wolf of Wall Street remains proof that Scorsese is an incredible film maker with an almost impossible vigour and enthusiasm for the medium.

Drinking it in...

Drinking it in…

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