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‘Vice’ is no valentine to Dick Cheney (review)

December 25, 2018

‘Vice’ is no valentine to Dick Cheney (review)

CLEVELAND, Ohio – The writer/director of “Vice,” Adam McKay, knows fertile ground when he sees it. It would have been difficult to come up with another real-life figure as iconic, shadowy and Machiavellian as former Vice President Dick Cheney.

Cheney is considered by Washington pundits as the most powerful vice president in history. And, as the filmmaker acknowledges in the opening credits, also the most secretive.

The way he came to grab and hold that power makes for a very intriguing and compelling political tale.

Christian Bale not only embodies Cheney physically, his appearance and voice, he also portrays him as having an almost a superhuman and reptilian acumen for sniffing out and acquiring influence for his own gain.

When Cheney left Haliburton, where he was CEO, for the White House, they gave him a $26 million going-away kiss. “More than twice what I asked for,” Cheney/Bale says in the movie.

The lunch scene where George W. Bush offers Cheney the VP job is a brilliant set piece. It illustrates succinctly just how crafty and conniving Cheney is, and it highlights Bush’s childlike naivete. Sam Rockwell plays Bush with the uncanny accuracy of a polished impressionist.

Cheney and Bush were more alike in some regards than is commonly known. They both had shaky starts as young men due to a penchant for excessive drinking. Cheney flunked out of Yale twice and had two drunken driving arrests by the time he was in his early 20s.

Lynne Cheney, played by Amy Adams, reads her young husband the riot act after the second of those arrests. She becomes his Lady Macbeth as he straightens up and begins pursuing power like a heat-seeking missile.

Cheney had five draft deferments during the Vietnam War and five heart attacks during his time in office. Those medical events culminated in a 2012 heart transplant. The cardiac episodes are touchstones in the movie.

Before Cheney took the job as VP, he came to an understanding with Bush, offering to “oversee” the more mundane tasks of the White House bureaucracy. Things like the military, energy and foreign policy. Bush gladly ceded his power to Cheney as if he had gotten a free pass from burdensome school assignments.

Cheney is consistently portrayed as a political and personal monster throughout most of “Vice.” He supported the “enhanced interrogation techniques” that were used on prisoners at Abu Ghraib. He promoted legislation that allowed the National Security Agency to tap the phones of law-abiding Americans.

With Donald Rumsfeld (Steve Carell), he led the charge on in the search for nonexistent weapons of mass destruction in Iraq. He put CIA agent Valerie Plame in grave danger as a way of getting back at her husband for criticizing him in public. “Ruthless” and “vindictive” are words that come to mind.

McKay allows Cheney a smidgen of humanity in his acceptance of his gay daughter, Mary (Alison Pill), and his support for same-sex marriage all during his time in office. Unfortunately, Mary’s sister Liz (Lily Rabe) did not support gay marriage in her run for her father’s congressional seat, which she won.

The subtitle for “Vice” – “The true untold story that changed history forever” – is a little exaggerated. I didn’t see anything in the movie that most Americans who were paying attention weren’t aware of.

And as for calling it a “comedy,” I don’t know. McKay has the kind of director’s style you might expect from a writer for “Saturday Night Live,” which he was. The Cheney we meet here is a blunt, vicious and power-hungry monster of a man.

I was pretty horrified by revisiting most of it.

REVIEW

Vice

Who: With Christian Bale, Amy Adams, Steve Carell, Sam Rockwell, Alison Pill, Lily Rabe, Tyler Perry and LisaGay Hamilton. Written and directed by Adam McKay.

Rated: R.

Running time: 132 minutes.

When: Opens Tuesday, Dec. 25.

Where: Area theaters.

Grade: B+

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