Directed by Adam McKay
Starring: Christian Bale, Amy Adams, Steve Carell, Sam Rockwell
Rated R for language and some violent images
2 hrs., 12 min.
Why was this film made? Well, we might ask the main man, Dick Cheney, except, the Vice of this film doesn’t talk much, can’t shoot straight and lumbers down a hall like a bear with a hernia. Still, we spend two-plus hours hoping for an explanation.
This film has a definite viewpoint aimed squarely at a Shakespeare-quoting Wyoming lineman who, according to director Adam McKay, shoulders the blame for initiating the infamous War in Iraq that has us currently mired in the Middle East like a tractor stuck in the middle of a muddy pasture. What’s more, it claims to be true.
Dick Cheney (Christian Bale) starts off his adult life as a drunk Yale dropout who gets pulled over twice in his native Wyoming for DUIs. His ambitious wife, Lynne (Amy Adams), gives him an ultimatum to shape up or ship out.
Cheney turns over a new leaf and, with Lynne pulling the oars, works his way up the Washington political ladder; first as an intern for Congressman William A. Steiger, then serving in the Nixon and Ford White House, where he eventually was hired as the White House Chief of Staff. In 1978, Cheney was elected to the U.S. House of Representatives for Wyoming’s single congressional district. Later, during the first Bush presidency, he became the Secretary of Defense. Under George W. Bush, he was elected as Vice President and served for two terms.
Not that this chain of events makes the movie interesting. What director McKay really wants to note is how Cheney, who is portrayed as both bumbling and boring, managed to find himself in the middle of an important political debate regarding the unitary executive theory.
What? Uh, you know, the debate we’re having now, the idea being that if the president does something illegal in office, he can’t be prosecuted because . . . he’s the president.
Does this sound familiar? Remember Nixon? Remember the argument for weapons of mass destruction? Remember torture, rendition and Abu Ghraib? Draw a line between those two with Cheney square in the middle.
So, according to McKay, the growling, heart-attack prone Cheney learned his lessons well while serving his masters and actually became an accomplished vice-presidential assassin, or so the director would argue through his narrator, Kurt (Jesse Plemons).
As you may guess, this isn’t a straight narrative feature. Vice is more like a docudrama with actors hired as fill-ins for the actual characters. It feels very Michael Moore-ish, minus the humor and Moore’s usual on-camera shenanigans.
Vice is remarkable for each character’s resemblance, particular the slim Bale as the lumbering Cheney. But add Adams to the list of powerful women portraying powerful women. If Dick is an unpolished diamond, she is the jeweler.
Still, even with the actors’ skillful representations, the story of Cheney’s rise is painful to watch. Not just for the usual politics, but for the events leading up to 9/11 and the back story behind the invasion of Iraq in 2003. Just the memory of such loss, so many lies and the resulting political military quagmire is almost unbearable to watch.
And then something strange happens. It’s as if McKay, struggling to piece this story together, shares a moment of epiphany. Quoting Cheney word for word, Bale sits up in bed in a darkened room and gives an unapologetic justification for his actions: He was simply protecting us from the bad guys. He was just doing his job. And isn’t that the usual answer that power gives when its dirty deeds are exposed?
So, while this film may or may not be the actual story and may or may not be an accurate and fair portrayal of Cheney, in the end McKay — by picking apart the pieces, finding a certain thread of reasoning and building upon Cheney’s own words — actually got the story right.