"Vice" -- the movie  

My Recent Posts


(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Rather than a historical document (though full of specific dates and factual events), this should be viewed as the creation of the director Adam McKay.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?

 

Comments

Jim Stoner Added Jan 1, 2019 - 5:25pm
I'd welcome comments about the movie, or it in the awards competition with other new releases, but also about the 2001-2009 period and Cheney's role in it.   It could be a welcome break from all-Trump-all-the-time. 
 
FacePalm Added Jan 1, 2019 - 8:39pm
Darth Cheney, the Shrub's puppetmaster.  A neocon criminal, directly involved in 911 on behalf of those who wanted to see America turn into a surveillance state.
Unrepentant Added Jan 1, 2019 - 8:44pm
"McKay shows them as being Partners in Climb throughout their careers"
 
Yes, in this setting, "climb" and "crime" are interchangeable, lol. I saw Oliver Stone's W. and was surprised at Stone's apparent restraint; something tells me that isn't missing here.
Jeff Jackson Added Jan 2, 2019 - 5:52am
As Oscar Wilde said: "The only thing worse than being talked about is not being talked about."
Johnny Fever Added Jan 2, 2019 - 10:01am
I see that you describe the movie as a “pro hit job” and “propaganda.”  However, if you really believed that you wouldn’t have closed with “the conniving underpinning under legal cover which allowed Cheney--who was basically an unregulated missile in the Executive Mansion…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.”
 
In reality, Cheney did not behave like an unregulated missile and served as Vice President with honor and distinction.  The decision to enter the Iraq War was ultimately Bush’s and to the extent you think it was a mistake, Bush deserves to be labeled a goat.  The problem with movies like this is that people forget its one person’s account of a historical figure. That person was biased and clearly didn’t like Bush, Cheney or Republicans.  It would appear you forgot as well. 
Jim Stoner Added Jan 2, 2019 - 8:21pm
Johnny,  I didn't forget that at all--I went to great pains in the article to accentuate that this is McKay's interpretation of the facts, not the facts themselves. 
It is propaganda, yes, but it's a subjective take on the actual facts with which I agree (to about 90%--there's a few percent with which I'd disagree, and a few more--such as the degree to which Cheney took command authority without notifying the Commander-in-Chief--about which I cannot guess).  I recognize the filmmaker's statement for what it is, but it's basically on the side I would take.
 
   Cheney sought maximum power and grabbed for it; even apart from the will to power, his motivations seem less than pure, and McKay brings that out.   Cheney might have done exactly what Bush would have done on 9/11, and Bush might have gone into Iraq eventually without the neocons urging him on, but the film shows where Cheney's handprint is unmistakable.   Operationally, a lot of the misconduct (Abu Gharaib, extraordinary rendition, torture) is laid at Cheney's feet, as he took an active role (with Rumsfeld) in the directives which led to those abuses, and this is fully brought out.
 
Bush might not have been re-elected in 2004 if the investigation of Cheney's outing of the Lady V. had gotten as far as an indictment of him (which is why Trump pardoned Scooter Libby).   There's a lot of damning material regarding Cheney (and Rumsfeld) that will never fully reach the light of day.   Because we have a colossal monster dominating our political environment. And because President Obama decided he had more important things to do and chose not to dig into the past.
He should be credited for that service, I guess; there were big issues to address in those two years when he had control of Washington.  
Jim Stoner Added Jan 2, 2019 - 8:27pm
Last night I saw the movie I think will be the chief Oscars rival to "Vice" (along with "Green Book" and "The Favourite"), "Mary Poppins Returns".  It was a throwback to the original and many others, great musicals with high production values and a great cast. Suitable for all ages, and has some very gently presented moral values that are practical and positive.  I can't imagine anyone objecting to it at all.
 
What I don't know is whether a movie like that can draw audiences into theaters anymore, which for me is a sad commentary. 
Cullen Kehoe Added Jan 3, 2019 - 2:52am
Bush didn't pardon Scooter Libby, he commuted the sentence which means Scooter could never work as a lawyer or really serve in government ever again. And this is what I understand marked the 'falling out' that Bush and Cheney had in his final 2-3 years in office. 
 
The whole Valerie Plame episode is strange (in hindsight) because it appears to have been an accident. Richard Armitage, an aide of Colin Powell, outed her accidentally. The journalist refused to say who did it. The sharks circled around Cheney and his aide. (And Colin Powell hated Cheney so he sat back and let the sharks pounce.)
 
Scooter Libby, an aide of Cheney, lied to investigators about something (when he didn't have since he didn't do it). But he lied anyway, they convicted him on lying and it made things appear that he, Scooter Libby, outed Plame. And it made Cheney appear as this puppet-master of the entire Administration. When it really wasn't so. 
 
The press was blowing up the whole thing at the time that Bush was going to pardon Libby and that it was an impeachable offense because Bush and Cheney acted like they were above the law. (Sound familiar?) But since it was in the wake of the Iraq War lies that were finally coming to light--there never were any weapons of mass destruction--and a lot of people were rightfully ticked off. 
Cullen Kehoe Added Jan 3, 2019 - 2:59am
My understanding is Cheney and Rumsfeld were smart guys and were desperate to get justification for the Iraq War. They sent Colin Powell to the U.N. to do his presentation of mobile biological weapons labs intelligence that they knew was very shaky (effectively setting up Powell as humiliating himself if it turned out wrong). And it turned out to have been wrong....
 
All that 'mobile weapons labs' intel came from one guy, a notorious liar--Curveball, that German intelligence warned the U.S. about (because he was an Iraqi defector and wound up in Germany and made up nonsensical stories to them). And he made his way to U.S. intelligence and has since admitted that he completely made up the mobile biological weapons labs intel. He just made it up out of thin air. 
 
That, and the forged 'yellow cake uranium' document that the French said was nonsense were the entire justifications for the Iraq War. Two bits of intel that both shaky. And the Bush people went on T.V. and talked about 'mushroom clouds over American cities' if the U.S. didn't invade.  
Cullen Kehoe Added Jan 3, 2019 - 3:01am
Cheney and Rumsfeld appear to have been the masterminds behind the Bush Administration, and all of the mistakes and crimes that went with that Administration. 
Jim Stoner Added Jan 3, 2019 - 3:02am
You got it, Cullen.  It's all in the movie (except Curveball).  The Tragedy of Colin Powell would also make a good movie. 
Jim Stoner Added Jan 3, 2019 - 3:06am
To your other point, it wasn't Bush who pardoned Libby, it was Trump.  Recently.  It was his way of signaling to those who refused to turn on him and provide evidence that he would protect them. 
Johnny Fever Added Jan 3, 2019 - 11:16am
If something is 90% true than it isn’t propaganda or a hit job.  So spare me the great pains you took to make it sound like this was merely one man’s interpretation. 
 
Once again, Cheney did not seek or obtain maximum power.  I know that’s what liberals would like to believe, but it simply isn’t true.  I think Liberals are always in need of a boogeyman to direct their fury at.  The reality is that there are no boogeyman, life is far more complicated than that.  So Cheney has been your boogeyman, facts be damned.  However, if the movie is more entertaining by taking liberties with the truth, I have no problem with that. 
 
As for the decision to attack Iraq, it was made with great pain.  It was also made with the support of the international community and Democrats.  A fact liberals love to forget when mentioning the war.  Neither Bush or Cheney were influenced by neocons, if anything, those people (whomever they are) made the decision that much harder. 
Jim Stoner Added Jan 3, 2019 - 1:05pm
Johnny, 
I have been searching for the right way to describe the movie.  It's neither historical nonfiction nor fiction, not satire nor comedy, nor tragedy (really--it has a happy ending). 
 
The best description I can come up with is "character study".  That's what the movie is all about--McKay's take on the Cheney personality, how he interacted with others, how his character affected his actions, and some groping at portraying his actual motivations for them.  That being said, it was produced with a point of view about him and the events of the day, maybe one that changed somewhat (to become more sympathetic to him personally) in the course of making the film. 
Jim Stoner Added Jan 3, 2019 - 1:22pm
Iraq:  I was out of the country during the lead-up to the 2003 invasion. I know that the Republicans had whipped the Democrats with the war baton in November, 2002, and the Democrats were afraid:  Both sides should bear the blame--though some were smart enough to see through the con. 
 
Further, the war powers authorization meant, and all should have been aware that it meant, that war could come, but not that it must, nor that it need come soon.  That was the neocons' doing, with Bush and Cheney and Rumsfeld.  They own that, and probably own the browbeating of (CIA director) Tennant and Colin Powell to make them accomplices, though those two know they got conned, big-time. 
 
It is not true that the international community supported the Iraq invasion; it was overwhelmingly rejected and the UN decried it as an illegal war.  Most of our allies opted out; when the UK didn't, the result (taking on an unpopular discretionary war) ruined Tony Blair and the Labour party for 15 years and counting. 
 
Ward Tipton Added Jan 4, 2019 - 2:56am
Hollywood has always taken great advantage of "literary license" in the creation of their mockumentaries. Nothing new here. 
Stone-Eater Added Jan 4, 2019 - 5:43am
Thanks. Gotta watch that. But then....how can a criminal like Cheney get the honor to be the "star" of a movie ? Is it because nowadays big time criminals seem to have become some sort of "idols" for a large part of the population (not only in the US) ?
 
BTW: I like Oliver Stone, but I'm never sure which role he really plays, as for example Michael Moore as well. Where do they get the cash to realize their projects if not from the entertainment factories (establishment) which are not really part of the "good ones" but rather a part of MSM....just like Trump. He wants to fight the establishment as he says, but his money comes from exactly there, no ?
 
Cognitive dissonance ?
Ward Tipton Added Jan 4, 2019 - 5:44am
I wonder if they mentioned that Cheney never offered no-bid contracts to Halliburton ... that was given by Clinton v1.0
Johnny Fever Added Jan 4, 2019 - 9:15am
“I know that the Republicans had whipped the Democrats with the war baton in November, 2002, and the Democrats were afraid”
 
The Democrats were/are free to vote however they please.  So no whipping took place, they voted their conscience and now people like yourself are blaming Republicans for the way Democrats voted.  Oh and by the way, Republicans were/are afraid of war as well. 
 
“Both sides should bear the blame--though some were smart enough to see through the con.”
 
What con are you talking about?
 
“Further, the war powers authorization meant, and all should have been aware that it meant, that war could come, but not that it must, nor that it need come soon.  That was the neocons' doing, with Bush and Cheney and Rumsfeld.” 
 
That is such bullshit.  If Hussein had stepped down or allowed weapons inspectors free reign, possibly war would have been avoided.  Everyone knew there was little chance of that happening, meaning the war powers authorization vote, was a vote for war. 
 
“They own that, and probably own the browbeating of (CIA director) Tennant and Colin Powell to make them accomplices, though those two know they got conned, big-time.”
 
What con are you talking about?  Who owns what?  What happened to that “both sides should bear the blame” stuff you were saying?
 
“It is not true that the international community supported the Iraq invasion; it was overwhelmingly rejected and the UN decried it as an illegal war.”
 
Per this link you will see a listing of multi-national forces that joined the coalition.  The fact a corrupt and anti-Semitic institution like the UN didn’t support the war, means nothing. 
 
"Most of our allies opted out; when the UK didn't, the result (taking on an unpopular discretionary war) ruined Tony Blair and the Labour party for 15 years and counting." 
 
This is the one sentence you wrote that I agree with.  It came as no surprise to me that when the war got difficult, the United States was the only country that persevered.
Jim Stoner Added Jan 4, 2019 - 2:25pm
The con was that the Iraq was necessary and somehow had some connection with 9/11.  The inspectors wanted more time. 
 
I'll stick with my comment on the international community--it was more against than supportive. 
 
Again, I was out of the country for the 2002 elections, but my impression was that the Republicans wanted a blank check and whipped up the war fever such that (most) Democrats feared to block it.  As Ward says above, nothing new there. --again, credit to those who knew better. 
 
I was in England working during the lead-up to the invasion.  It split the party down the middle; I feel sympathy for Blair, who wanted to do the right thing and trusted us--maybe too much. 
 
Ward,  They did mention the no-bid contracts in passing, but I don' think they laid that as Cheney's doing, more like an insider benefit that he was fully aware of.  If you see it, you could check and see if that's right.   You are definitely right that there was creative license taken, but that's his prerogative, I don't think he'd deny it. 
 
FacePalm Added Jan 7, 2019 - 3:10pm
Jim-
i just read a story where Christian Bale - the actor who portrayed Cheney - thanked Satan for providing the inspiration to play Cheney.
 
Completely appropriate.  Cheney's still a devil, happily rolling in the filth of the Halliburton war-profiteering machine.
FacePalm Added Jan 7, 2019 - 4:00pm
That was at the Golden Globes award ceremony, btw.  It was for "best actor in a comedy(?) or musical(?)." 
 
It's extremely unlikely that i'll watch "Vice," so maybe you can tell me about the "comedic" or "musical" parts?
Jim Stoner Added Jan 8, 2019 - 10:51pm
Bale did say that (thanking Satan for the inspiration to play the role); he had a funny acceptance speech with a pronounced English accent, one we rarely if ever hear in his performances.  You can find it here
 
As for  the movie being comedy/musical, I would say that was basically a misclassification--something the Golden Globes do quite often (and did with some other movies this year). .  There was no music, some humorous bits, but not predominantly so. 
 
Based on what you've written in comments so far, i don't see any reason why you shouldn't see it.  It is certainly not a puff piece about Dick; and is especially focused on the alleged power grab he made. 
wsucram15 Added Jan 10, 2019 - 6:22pm
My brother was in the middle east for many years.  Cheney does not deserve a movie, not today or any other day.
Collin Powell however, was a trusted man, and he got "convinced" into going along with the invasion of Iraq..   The data was old and that there were many inaccuracies to the WMD claims.
But either way..Powell was the fall guy for Cheney on that one. Then he forced Powell out.
FacePalm Added Jan 16, 2019 - 2:39am
I completely agree with you for once, Jeanie. 
Cheney had his figurative hand up the Shrub's behind, and when the latter spoke, it was at Cheney's command.
 
Cheney was the one allegedly running "drills" on 911, which is what slowed the response of US fighter jets, among other deliberate delays and misdirection.  From what i understand, the World Court indicted both Cheney and the Shrub for war crimes, and there are European countries in which they cannot set foot today or risk being immediately arrested and held over for trial.
 
Couldn't happen to a nicer pair of miscreants, imo.
Ward Tipton Added Jan 16, 2019 - 6:54am
I can think of about 535 more if you want names ... I believe they are listed in the government registry ... though we could add in some of the regulatory agencies and their leaders as well if there is any room left over. 
 

Recent Articles by Writers Jim Stoner follows.