Director: Adam McKay
Politics was the life of Dick Cheney and he was very good at it, even if his actual use of power − as blatantly presented by director Adam McKay in the film ‘Vice’ – was a questionable force for peace and goodwill on earth.
‘Vice’ is definitely an eye opener, putting a particular frame-work around American and world politics that had previously not been so clearly defined, through in this instance the framework comes in the form of an extremely tongue-in-cheek view-point delivered as a biopic on the life of Dick Cheney.
Cheney is portrayed (in an astonishing performance by Christopher Bale) as a master in the art of influencing the activities associated with the governance of a country while also being red hot in the art of improving his own status within government. A winning double for any political animal.
Initially, Cheney’s rise to power is shown as being primarily influenced by his hyper-ambitious wife Lynne (Amy Adams) who does not wish to mirror the life of her mother, married to an abusive, drunkard government worker. Lynne is shown early in the movie reading Dick the riot act, demanding that he shape up or leave her life. Dick does shape up big time, and with Lynne by his side he embarks on an astonishing rise to power, selecting Donald Rumsfeld (Steve Carell) as his role-model and mentor, while the more entertaining Lynne completes their double-act as the intelligent and witty women by his side.
We follow Cheney’s life from that of drunken Yale drop-out to Governor George W Bush’s preferred Republican running mate in the 2000 presidential election. Along the way Cheney has been a White House Chief of Staff, Defence Secretary, and CEO of (oil field service company) Halliburton Co. The real focus of McKay’s film is however, those critical years before and after 9/11. McKay makes it quite clear to his audience that Cheney, on invitation to run for Vice Presidents by George W Bush (Sam Rockwell), realises he can wield far greater influence than previous Vice Presidents by manipulating certain vulnerabilities of the to-be president, and this is critical in his acceptance of the offer and our understanding of his character. Cheney’s negotiates, offering to take on ‘the boring stuff like Defence and Trade…’ (or some such thing) with an acquiescent Bush when the two are tying up their terms of agreement.
All the way through the movie as a relatively active film interpreter, I was trying to work out if I was being presented with a comedic snapshot of a genuinely corrupt power couple – it was definitely the ‘Dick and Lynne’ show − who were massaging power for their own benefit indirectly (oil, arms deals, big business alliances), or a power couple who genuinely believed that an aggressive form of democracy from a 1950’s world-view was the only (bloody) path to an eventual American-styled safe world, regardless of manipulations and casualties along the way.
Interesting insights are the portrayal of Cheney as a loving and supportive father and husband. For instance, the portrayal of Dick downplaying the urgency of his many heart attacks so as not to upset his wife and daughters is actually endearing, just the way a loving father would behave. Likewise, his love of his children is portrayed as going deeper than his own political ambition when he adopts a politically uncharacteristic pro-gay marriage stance, largely motivated by the coming out of his own gay daughter Mary.
This biopic comedy is a little too heavy handed though there are many parts that are a delight. A lovely scene involves Cheney and Lynne in bed and in Shakespearean-mode, discussing the prospect of political power that makes you immediately think of Macbeth and his lady love, and this tonal switch wonderfully realises just how seductive power was for this incongruously loving family couple.
An interesting insight into the machinations of Washington DC and a complex man whose departure from American politics left the legacy of a decimated Iraq and 1000’s of lives – both Iraqi and American – horrifically damaged and destroyed in a war that was in large part based on unverified information. Certain businesses did well however, Kellogg Brown & Root, a subsidiary of Cheney’s old company Halliburton, acquired contracts to the value of seven billion to restore and operate Iraqi oil wells while Halliburton itself acquired contracts in excess of five billion to look after/provide logistical support for troops in the Middle East.
Politics creates strange beasts or maybe attracts them. (*I’ve just seen the biopic Loro based on Italy’s past Prime Minister Berlusconi. A completely different style of man – possibly a more Trump-style character, but an equally fascinating beast in the political zoo … and this one is quite definitely not a family man!)