- Adam McKay
- Run Time
- 2 hours and 12 minutes
VP Content Ratings
- Sex & Nudity
- Star Rating
Woe unto them that call evil good, and good evil; that put darkness for light, and light for darkness;
that put bitter for sweet, and sweet for bitter!
Here’s a piece of bad business I’ve seen on this earth,
An error that can be blamed on whoever is in charge:
Immaturity is given a place of prominence,
While maturity is made to take a backseat.
I’ve seen unproven upstarts riding in style,
While experienced veterans are put out to pasture.
If you are among the growing number of political junkies, you will enjoy this film, one that would make a suitable companion for a double-feature starting with Oliver Stone’s 2008 satirical about Pres. George W. Bush, W. Richard Dreyfuss played the “Vice,” a.k.a. Dick Cheney, in the earlier film; Christian Bale in this one—and what a performance, one that will hold your attention throughout the two endings, regardless of what you think of the man! I write “two endings”—more on that in the next paragraph.
Vice has been praised by many critics as a comedy—and was so honored at the recent Golden Globes Awards ceremony–but for most of its first half it seemed to me to be a political docudrama in which a hard-drinking young man was forced by his divorce-talking wife Lynne (Amy Adams) to straighten up—” Either you have the courage to become someone or I’m gone.” He heeds her, several years later becoming a White House intern where he links to Donald Rumsfield (Steve Carrell) during the Nixon administration, followed by serving Gerald Ford as Chief of Staff. After Ford is defeated Cheney runs from Congress, with Lynn having to speak for him when he suffers a heart attack. He is a typical conservative representative, supporting most of Reagan’s pro-business policies, specially favoring fossil fuel industries. During his ten-year stint in the House he and Lynn become a power couple when she chairs the National Endowment for the Humanities. Under Pres. George H.W. Bush he serves as Secretary of Defense. During this period he and Lynn come to terms with daughter Mary’s (Alison Pill) coming out of the closet to reveal she is gay. However, her sister Liz (Lily Rabe), who also has political ambitions, refuses to accept Mary’s status.
The Presidential bug infects Cheney, but when it becomes evident that the media will spotlight daughter Mary’s sexual life, he drops out of the race, not wanting to put her through such n ordeal. During the Clinton administration he heads up the giant Hailiburton corporation and Lynn writes books and raises golden retrievers. Some end notes about the couple and rolling end credits make us think the film is over, but then the film jumps to a meeting between Cheney and Gov. George W. Bush of Texas. He is played so broadly as a simpleton by Sam Rockwell that even I realized we were indeed watching a comedy, albeit a dark one.
Cheney refuses Gov. Bush‘s invitation to be his running mate, telling him that he’s been CEO of a big company, whereas the Vice Presidency was a nothing position—unless, well let them speak for themselves:
George W. Bush: Whaddaya say?… I want you to be my VP. I want you, you’re ma vice.
Dick Cheney: Well, George, I, uh… I’m a CEO… of a large company. And I have been Secretary of Defense… and I have been White House Chief of Staff. The Vice Presidency is a mostly symbolic job.
George W. Bush: Uh-huh.
Dick Cheney: However, if we came to a, uh… different… understanding… I can handle the more mundane… jobs. Overseeing bureaucracy… military… energy… and, uh… foreign policy. [pause]
George W. Bush: Yeah, right! I like that!
I love, during their conversation, the insertion several times of a close up of a dishing line and lure, a good follow-up to the film’s depiction of Cheney’s love of fly fishing. Poor ole George has swallowed Cheney’s pitch—as the old cliché puts it, hook, line and sinker. There ensues all the mess following the attack on the World Trade Center—the invasion of Afghanistan, the manipulation of the “facts” about Iraq’s Saddam Hussein being in partnership with the Taliban and in possession of weapons of mass destruction, and the invasion and ineptly managed occupation.
Hardest to stomach are quick shots of Guantanamo and Cheney’s infamous claim that water boarding is not torture, and more. Talk about those who “call evil good, and good evil”! It is easy to see the relevance of Cheney’s twisting of facts and deceptive practices to what is happening today. Had his story ended with that fake ending, we might have come away admiring the man because of his dropping out of a political race to spare his daughter. Father love trumps love of power, but unfortunately—for the country and for the world, especially the tens of thousands of Iraqis who died in his unnecessary war, Dick Cheney rose to the pinnacle of political power, transforming a post that one Vice President said wasn’t “worth a bucket of spit” into one that changed history—for the worst.
I think Qoholeth would have enjoyed this take on a man grasping for ultimate power because of the mocking attitude of its creators. A prophet such as Jeremiah or Amos probably would have taken a more direct, denunciatory approach—hence the “Woe” of the Isaiah quote above. The author of Ecclesiastes would have favored the film’s more oblique attack on political malfeasance that comedy affords.
Writer/director Adam McKay has done a masterful job in showing us a Faustian man who became a master puppet master, manipulating his boss to do his will. Christine Bale virtually disappears behind the extra weight and the incredible make up job that transforms him into the “Vice.” Capturing the voice and mannerisms of Cheney so well, it should have come as no surprise that he would win a Golden Globe. Now we will have to see what the members of the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Science think about this.
This review will be in the January 2019 issue of VP along with a set of questions for reflection and/or discussion. If you have found reviews on this site helpful, please consider purchasing a subscription or individual issue in The Store.