‘Vice,’ Dick Cheney movie, doesn’t align with history, insiders say
It’s snagging accolades from some of Hollywood’s most prestigious groups, but “Vice” the cinematic rendering of former Vice President Dick Cheney, starring Christian Bale in the title role is getting far less love from those who actually know the man.
That proves true even for some in the George W. Bush administration who didn’t always agree with the vice president.
“Vice” a comedic broadside from progressive filmmaker Adam McKay (“The Big Short”) has racked up nine Critics’ Choice Award nominations, six Golden Globe nominations and two Screen Actors Guild Award nods. It is receiving significant Oscar buzz for a film that hasn’t even opened: It debuts Dec. 23.
That critical praise isn’t universal, however, especially in conservative circles. National Review’s Kyle Smith compared “Vice” to an “InfoWars-style garbage dump.” Conservative critic James Frazier tweeted that Oliver Stone’s 2008 biopic “W.,” a withering portrayal of President George W. Bush, “is hagiographic compared to ‘Vice.’”
Michael Brown, who served as undersecretary of homeland security under Mr. Bush, called “Vice” “an attempt to get in a one-two punch against Republicans and conservatives prior to the 2020 election.”
“If that was my objective, I might have waited just a little longer to release it, but the Hollywood press will give this enough coverage to nonetheless energize the left-of-center political base,” Mr. Brown said.
[Note: This reporter appears on Mr. Brown’s Denver-based “Heckuva Show” with Michael Brown on Friday evenings on KOA NewsRadio.]
“Vice” portrays Mr. Cheney as an all-powerful Machiavellian figure, something Mr. McKay has described at length in press interviews. It’s a narrative that Mr. Stone embraced in “W.”
But history doesn’t align with that portrait, Mr. Brown said.
“President Bush gave the vice president certain responsibilities, including counterterrorism, prior to 9/11,” Mr. Brown said. “So that role in counterterrorism was heightened and more in-your-face post 9/11, and I think that drove the narrative that the VP was a Darth Vader character really running the administration.
“Nothing could be further from the truth,” he said. “The president indeed relied on the VP for advice, but no more so than he relied on [Secretary of State] Condi Rice or [White House Chief of Staff] Andy Card or other key figures inside the West Wing.
“And make no mistake: There was no love lost between me and the vice president over several matters,” Mr. Brown said.
Will “Vice” change hearts and minds, a phrase deployed by Team Bush as part of the administration’s war on terror strategy? Mr. Brown suggests that won’t be a “Mission Accomplished” moment for Hollywood.
“The narrative of the Bush administration is already set, either positive or negative. I don’t think it will have an impact other than to reaffirm viewers’ confirmation bias,” he said.
Craig Shirley, a Reagan biographer and presidential historian, agrees.
“Most political movies are dismissed,” Mr. Shirley said. “I think the country is such that the left is going to believe it and the right is going to dismiss it.”
A few political films, he said, “can do real damage.”
He cites Mr. Stone’s 1991 film “JFK,” which marinated in the conspiracy theories surrounding the president’s assassination.
“Now, a majority of people believe it’s a conspiracy that killed JFK,” he said.
Mr. McKay told The Hollywood Reporter that the film’s script underwent a thorough vetting for accuracy.
But Alberto Gonzales, who served as Mr. Bush’s attorney general from 2005 to 2007, laughed when he first saw the “Vice” trailer.
“I thought it was hilarious ... and so far from the reality that I know,” Mr. Gonzales said of the film, originally titled “Backseat.”
He discards the film’s assessment that Mr. Cheney essentially ran the administration and calls the narrative “totally false based on my firsthand experience.”
He suspects that those depicted in the film will ignore “Vice” and all it alleges.
“These [presidential] critics want to make a silly movie. That’s fine. That’s what America is all about,” Mr. Gonzales said.
He added that he didn’t always agree on issues facing the White House at the time. That doesn’t diminish his appreciation for the vice president.
“He’s a true patriot,” the former attorney general said. “I met very few people in Washington who really loved America more than Dick Cheney.”
Mr. Shirley isn’t surprised that “Vice” slams the former vice president with such alacrity. He said Mr. McKay, with creative collaborator Will Ferrell, briefly toyed with a comic take on a dementia-addled President Reagan.
The public’s collective outcry, including from Michael Reagan and Patti Davis, the president’s children, forced them to scuttle the feature.
“It shows the lengths to which liberals in Hollywood will go to destroy [conservatives],” Mr. Shirley said.
Over the years, Mr. Shirley interviewed the former vice president extensively for his book research, and he has casually known Mr. Cheney and his wife, Lynne, (portrayed by Amy Adams) for years. The couple’s depiction in the trailer doesn’t square with the people he has met.
“This movie does not call into question their character. It calls into question Hollywood’s character,” he said.