Written & Directed by Adam McKay
Dick Cheney served under three of America’s presidents before getting to sit as vice president during George W. Bush’s administration. His path to power was made possible by his wife Lynne who spurred Dick on despite his proximity to many political scandals in Washington. When he finally reaches the highest levels of power in America, he calls in a series of friends and associates to help him commandeer control of the executive branch. President Bush doesn’t seem to mind and happily hands off the reins power leaving Cheney to mastermind the whole of foreign and energy policy for the next eight years. This is the story of the shadow president who transformed our nation forever and increased the reach of the office of the President for generations to come.
Adam McKay’s docudrama about Dick Cheney is energetic and ambitious, but ultimately messy, unable to focus enough on any single aspect of the man and his policies to make a clear statement. You learn a lot about Cheney’s tenure in various positions and the effects of his decisions. The film jumps around in time, starting with a traffic stop in the early 1960s where Cheney is drunk then forward to the morning of September 11th where we see the very moment the vice-president took control of the White House and our country. We never linger on a moment long enough to feel an impact. In this way, it falls into the same trap that so many modern biopics do, instead of making the film about a singular defining moment (see Spielberg’s Lincoln) we get a two-hour montage of recreations.
If you have seen The Big Short, McKay’s last foray into contemporary issues, then you won’t be entirely surprised by irreverent turns the film takes. One particularly wonderful moment occurs when the Cheneys realize Dick’s potential presidential bid will just never come to fruition. We get “where are they now” title cards over scenes of the family having a backyard barbeque, which become more and more ludicrous and contradictory with what we know happened, followed by the end credits. This false ending is interrupted by a phone call from the W. Bush campaign asking to set up a meeting with Dick.
There are some subtly clever ideas played with over the course of the almost three-hour movie. One of my favorites was a conversation between President Ford, Henry Kissinger, and Cheney. The scene works to highlight a trick that the film is playing on the viewer and points out how Cheney was deft at making the most outrageous and vile policies sound like they were the reasonable course of action. For the first half of the movie, you find yourself charmed by the roguish nature of Cheney and his boss then-Congressman Donald Rumsfeld. It’s not until the harsh reality of 9/11 occurs that a tonal shift happens and we suddenly see the actions of Cheney not as cheeky boys being boys but a genuine threat to the lives of soldiers being deployed and the world at large.
McKay audaciously piles on the war crimes and abuses of office to the point that we have so little time to digest what we’ve been given. I can see how his intention to raise the hackles of the audience with the sheer brazenness of Cheney and company but it is hard to process what we’ve been shown without a single quiet or still moment. I agree with McKay that everything presented here is vital information for a citizen to know, mainly that ISIS was a direct creation of the Cheney White House as a result of creating a mystique around Mohammed Al -Zarqawi, particularly a very tangential connection to Osama bin Laden, as further justification of the Iraq War. McKay doesn’t pull punches including footage of Hillary Clinton in a montage of Washingtonians leading the charge to war.
Vice isn’t the revelation I had hoped it would be. It is a satisfyingly fun and entertaining record of an American so influential but notorious secretive. The best thing about films like Vice is that they inspire me to pick up more books and go more in-depth with particular ideas presented. After this one, I’m hankering to read more about the formation of ISIS and Donald Rumsfeld.