Tuesday, December 25, 2018

Dick Cheney’s skewed political life realized in Adam McKay’s biting ‘Vice’

By Steve Crum
If not ironic, it is curious that Vice opens Christmas Day. It is anything but a family movie, or even lighthearted escapism. However, it IS a comedy of a very dark kind. The laughs are inward, and often make one cringe. That a fact-based movie about a power hungry politician from 2001-09 could be released in the midst of the currently controversial presidential term positively speaks to the tenets of our Constitution. Such is Adam McKay’s dramedy, Vice. McKay wrote, produced and directed it.
The movie’s focus is on Richard Bruce Cheney, whom the world knows as Dick Cheney, the 46th Vice President of the United States, under President George W. Bush. The film’s title references Cheney’s vice presidency as well as Merriam-Webster’s definition of vice: “moral depravity or corruption; wickedness.”
McKay’s credentials include Will Ferrell comedies (including both Anchorman films), The Big Short, and serving as head writer on Saturday Night Live. This time, it is not Ferrell masquerading as George W. Bush, but Sam Rockwell…and he nails it. Portraying VP Cheney is Oscar winner Christian Bale. So dedicated to acting his part, he gained 40 pounds. Thanks to studying Cheney’s speech patterns and mannerisms, Bale’s transformation is incredibly uncanny and stunning. This is far from an Alec Baldwin burlesque of Donald Trump—funny as that is.
Just as immersed in her role as Cheney’s wife, Lynne, is Amy Adams. She is terrific, and her character is central to the Dick Cheney story. 
After the Nebraska born Dick Cheney moves with his parents to Casper, Wyoming, it is apparent he is more interested in socializing than his studies. By the time he struggles to graduate from high school, his time is spent hanging out at local taverns and engaging in bar fights. One of his two arrests for DWI is depicted not long into the film. A couple of years later, he marries his childhood sweetheart, Lynne. 
Lynne has aspirations for power through politics, and applies them to her misguided husband. Realizing that men have a better chance to succeed in politics than women (at least then it was true), Lynne will vicariously guide her husband to greatness. She is essentially the puppeteer. And so it goes, as Dick Cheney rapidly climbs political rungs that reach the Oval Office of George W. Bush. By now, Dick himself believes his savvy and superiority, taking every opportunity to sidestep Bush in secret. 
According to Vice, it is an easy ruse. He uses Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld (Steve Carell) to circumvent Bush’s power whenever and however he can for his own purposes. Cheney’s grab for presidential power during the 9-11 attacks and the aftermath shock Colin Powell (Tyler Perry) and Condoleezza Rice (LisaGay Hamilton), but not the dense Bush. Back home, Lynne remains her spouse’s confidant-adviser. 
Was Dick Cheney really a ghost president to George W. Bush? Did Cheney really move our country to an Iraq War in search of non-existent chemical weapons? Vice answers yes to both questions. 
The film’s visuals and details are so honest, clarifying and precise that at times it seems we are viewing a Frederic Wiseman documentary. The Cheney years are history, and not that long ago. 
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GRADE on an A-F Scale: B+

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