"Vice" -- the movie  

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(contains spoilers, but you should already know the story)


Rather than a historical document (though full of specific dates and factual events), this should be viewed as the creation of the director Adam McKay.  The subject is the life and career of former Vice President Dick Cheney. McKay's career started with writing comedy (SNL, Talladega Nights) but then stepped it up big-time with "The Big Short", for which he was nominated for the Oscar for Best Director and won for adapted screenplay.  This time he does not have the writing credits, but the movie clearly has his authorship.

In some respects, the film does recall "The Big Short" (the inside story of the financial cause of the Great Crater and those who got ahead of the curve investing on it). An example is that in these "nonfiction" films he allows himself a scene of total comedy invention. In Big Short, he had Margot Robbie explain mortgage-backed derivatives from inside her bathtub; in Vice, he imagines a scene of Cheney and his wife Lynne engaged in pillow talk quoting from Shakespeare.

As in Short, McKay manages to make a dry and depressing subject entertaining, actually full of action. The raw material he found in Cheney's earlier life makes it possible: Cheney's early drunkenness, with Lynne telling him off; Cheney telling off Lynne's father after her mother's suspicious death by drowning; the scene when daughter Mary comes out as lesbian to Lynne and Cheney. Eventually, we get to the meat of the matter, with Cheney taking over (usurping?) in the Situation Room on 9/11, Cheney shooting the judge with the shotgun "while hunting' (in the movie, it's from a car!), Cheney ordering Scooter Libby to link the Wilson couple--Ambassador Joseph Wilson and CIA undercover agent Valerie Plame--if that occurred according to the scene, it was a criminal act never prosecuted (Scooter, though--that's a different story).

More than entertainment, though, the movie strives for greatness with its ensemble of actors.  First I must name Amy Adams as Lynne Cheney - what is there to say, except she consistently gives great performance in a huge variety of roles?   Here, she is playing a person of note, a writer and a woman with sharp intellect who has a deep understanding of the limitations of her time for a woman, even more so for one from a humble background, but one who is still hugely ambitious. It is her relationship to Cheney that McKay keys upon in his use of the dialogue from MacBeth where she guides and goads him to take that VP role from Dubya.

Sam Rockwell as George W. Bush was the one who amazed me most, in his expert impersonation of the voice and manner  of someone we all know all too well.   Unlike Christian Bale as Cheney, he may have been unwilling to put  on an extra 20 pounds (maybe 40 for Bale?) for the role, but the intimate, friendly W. good-ol'-boy is critically important in making credible McKay's presentation of Bush's intention always to have Cheney as the running mate and Cheney's initial reluctance even to consider taking it.

Then there is Steve Carrell as Donald Rumsfeld, Cheney's first employer in Washington (Dick was Rummy's intern when Rumsfeld was a junior Representative from Illinois). McKay shows them as being Partners in Climb throughout their careers, ultimately placing Rumsfeld in the room to push for the Iraq invasion (I was surprised not to hear Carrell speak the words "target-rich environment") so that Cheney didn't have to do it.   And I must give credit to Tyler Perry, playing Colin Powell, and LisaGay Hamilton as Condi Rice.  And there are many others.

The Bottom LIne on "Vice"
This movie is propaganda, of the best sort.  It's not quite comedy, not quite satire (too real).  I have to say it puts Michael Moore in the shade, much as i like that dude and his style, too.  This is a pro hit job.  I saw a quote from McKay in which he said that he viewed Cheney as a much more serious threat to the country than Trump. (don't know where, now)  Although I think the judgment is premature, it is clear that McKay gave a great deal of study and thought to this film, and that he was deeply disturbed by what Cheney did.

At the same time, McKay was astonished by the nature of Cheney's accomplishment, assisted by his legal accomplice David Eddington, who developed the "unitary Executive" theory's VP-corollary that the job, uniquely, has no meaningful check-and-balance.    Beyond that, he is sympathetic to the challenges Cheney faced, with his health,  with being consistent in supporting his daughter Mary, as well as being a reformed alcoholic from his early adult days.

Oscar-wise, this one could get a bunch of nominations--screenplay, editing, directing, all four acting roles, and Best Picture--but I don't see it sweeping the board like that.  It is clearly not going to be popular universally, and there are many interpretations of fact that can be dissected and dissed.  Its enduring value, though, comes from the very serious charges McKay makes through the movie about  the conniving underpinning under legal cover which allowed Cheney--who was basically an unregulated missile in the Executive Mansion (and a bunch of other places, as McKay shows) --to expand his practical control of the powers of government way beyond those envisioned for the Vice-Presidency, and to set Bush up as the goat for entering the Iraq war.  Think of whether the Founders would have wanted Aaron Burr to be able to order around the military, potentially initiating conflict, while he kept Thomas Jefferson in the air and out of the way?

 

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