Demonizing Dick Cheney


25 December 2018| No Comments on Vice     by Sean Chavel



We go in hoping for searing backstage look at vicious Republican politics, and for a narrative that can historical connect the dots. Adam McKay can do that, even if the story structure is occasionally haphazard and messy. To me, McKay is a much better director of drama (“The Big Short”) than he was at comedy (“Step Brothers”), because he can intersperse disgusting historical footnotes with the satirically profane while grounding his facts. He also knows how people tie into pivotal events. Vice suggests, no actually clearly demonstrates, that Dick Cheney had more power as vice president than any other VP ever before him. That was part of his agreement with George W. Bush, that to be his running mate, he would want his hands on fixing policies. W., with his absolute power, to be more specific “unitary executive theory,” chose to release more power to Cheney.

Much has been made that Christian Bale does an uncanny impression of Dick Cheney but that the performance is short on psychological probing, short on insight. A disclaimer by McKay and the filmmakers say that Cheney was a secretive person to begin with but that they would not add anything that they do not know. Bale restrains himself from any histrionics. Much of what Bale does here is restrained, he doesn’t give you much. Yet what I think what is happening here is that Cheney himself is such an inward, hollowed egotist that there is not much shading to him. With Cheney, what you see is what you get. For Bale, it is a cold ice performance done with signature expertise.

Cheney began early adulthood skipping college classes, over sleeping, putting up telephone lines, and being a boorish drunk (DeNiro in “Raging Bull” was more lovable). His girlfriend Lynne, played by Amy Adams in power hungry mode, calls him a loser and gives him an ultimatum to shape up. Entering politics is a toss-off idea she gives him.

He runs with that. By 1968, it will still relatively easy to get yourself into a congressional internment program (it was not a desirable profession. So wow, what an opening to get into politics at this time in history!), and even though Cheney didn’t have much opinion formed on any social matters yet, he spent those early years getting chummy with House Representative Donald Rumsfeld (Steve Carell). Rumsfeld sees common people as these mindless plebeians. Cheney adopts that mentality.

“Vice” covers a lot of ground, too much ground maybe, as McKay wants us to see the full spectrum of Cheney’s professional life – be successful! be powerful! Cheney is the Chief of Staff for President Gerald Ford, at a time when the job was easy for the taking. Cheney is eventually the Secretary of Defense for the first Bush president. In the 1990’s, he was CEO of Haliburton. There’s a title card at the end of the movie that says Haliburton’s stock rose 500% by the time the Iraq War was over.

But yes, there are a number of very good scenes in there between Cheney and Presidential hopeful George W. played by Sam Rockwell, who is not satirizing the former President as some kind of goofy monkey president, but as an earnest would-be politician who didn’t know enough about the entire job so he was free to delegate in ways that Cheney asked him to do. The war after 9/11 should have been concentrated in Afghanistan (McKay rationally argues, and a couple of supporting characters like Colin Powell argues), but Cheney in his self-serving ways gets the entire executive and legislative branch behind him for going into a scattershot war with Iraq.

There are many powerful moments in the film, there are alternate realities and cutaways of tea saucers falling in order for the film to make its points. A lot of these cutaway techniques worked so well in “The Big Short,” and it all fell organically. Here, McKay uses them as a crutch when it’s hard to come up with another way to get his point across. Some of his play is symbolically on the nose, some of it laborious. That these devices don’t always work doesn’t invalidate the film. But there is an inevitable feeling of diffusion to “Vice” however.

“Vice,” at two hours and ten minutes, has to skim through history and sum things up quickly. A historical drama this politically angry is one of the hardest types of films to pull off, it’s courage for the film to have come up with half of the things that it eventually comes up with. It’s inevitable, however, that we are limited often to a scant interpretation of events because McKay feels he has so much ground to cover. Now, I mean it when I say I love what McKay is doing these days, and hope he continues to do more. I also hope we get to a place where McKay can convince the studio heads make a three hour movie like “Vice” so the material can be done justice.  Scout’s honor, I’d have no problem sticking with a three hour Adam McKay drama. I also have no problem with McKay putting in a fight scene between a random Republican and a Liberal who chooses to use facts because it’s the right thing to do, as gratuitous as it is, I smirked and I liked it. But that’s just me.

132 Minutes. Rated R.


Film Cousins: “Why We Fight” (2005); “W.” (2007); “The Big Short” (2015); “The Post” (2017).





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Sean Chavel

About The Author / Sean Chavel

Sean Chavel is a Hollywood based author and movie reviewer. He is the Executive Director of, a new website that has adapted the movie review site genre by introducing moodbased and movie experience based reviews.


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