Vice (****) – It’s more complicated than that

Written and Directed by Adam McKay
Starring Christian Bale, Amy Adams, Steve Carell, Sam Rockwell, Tyler Perry, Alison Pill, Jesse Plemons

When Adam McKay was in the process of completing Vice, the story of Dick Cheney’s rise to the role of Queen on the chessboard of U.S. politics, he suffered a mild heart attack. In the process of getting the stint put in, he discussed what he was working out. One of the med techs says:

“Dick Cheney. Great American.”

Not wanting to risk angering someone working on his heart, he gives as honest of an answer as possible.

“It’s very complicated.”

In full disclosure, I have to mention that I have spent many years resentful of the Dick Cheney administration. It’s obvious to most who studied the era even a little that it was run with a puppet figurehead who ironically called himself “The Decider” while handing the reins over to a hardened, quiet and cynical presence who seized opportunity while other people ran for cover.

The creation of a story out of the tiny bits of information that squeaked out of Dick Cheney’s time before, during and after he left the most powerful position of power in the land is difficult. McKay gives it everything he’s got, which is a perspective unique in delivery if not altogether with information we hadn’t already seen elsewhere.

First and foremost, Christian Bale is excellent in his portrayal. His commitment to the role evidently involved a lot of bad eating and learning to speak primarily in a husky, just went up 3 flights of stairs whisper. If it weren’t for showing him as a younger, still heavy man, I could have watched the film and never known it was someone other than Cheney.

Almost as good is Amy Adams as Cheney’s Lady MacBeth, Lynne. Her drive and determination is at once midwestern, obvious and quick learning. There is a crucial point in the film when she picks up the Cheney baton and runs with it for a while. Even when Dick is holding it, she is pushing firmly from behind.

Sam Rockwell’s George W. Bush would seem like something from a Saturday Night sketch, were it not for the fact that the real Bush is sadly as comical. His lightweight approach is goodly hearted, so long as being good doesn’t interfere with his enjoyment of his day.

There are many contrasts in the film. One of which shows Bush giving the speech describing the need for starting the war with Iraq, while under his desk he’s manically pulsing one of his feet. Many miles away, we see an Iraqi father with his wife and children under the dining room table trying to save their lives from the bombing. Sure enough, he’s doing the same thing with his foot. Kind of obvious in a movie sort of way, but no less insightful of the mindset that took responsibility for “deciding” to get Americans and Iraqi’s into this mess.

Much of what the film consists of is somewhat armchair knowledge of the events for the Cheney / Bush first term. It helps to put things into perspective, especially more than sixteen years later. This man viewed himself as a patriot, sure. He was also a very calculated opportunist who saw dollar signs at the expense of lives. If nothing else, America needs to remember it for what really happened.

His actions, like giving Halliburton no bid contracts, tell us this, if it never will come out of his mouth directly. He’s not the only person to use power for the sake of his own benefit. He’s definitely one of the shrewdest I have witnessed.

Given the lack of actual words out of the mouth deception, we get moments of lunacy. Like when the narrator explains Cheney’s delivery of absurd information in that low monotone, for example. The things he says to Ford aren’t verbatim.

Similarly, there’s a moment when Dick and Lynne are pondering the possibility of his being Vice President while getting ready for bed. Their conversation segues into Shakespearean dialogue that paraphrases Richard III. The feeling is closer to Ron Burgundy than Shakespeare himself, but that’s what you do when you just weren’t there, one has to suppose.

Perhaps the most obvious he is about what we all know is the use of the fishing lure representing his “search” to find a VP candidate for Bush. It starts with Bush asking him outright, then Cheney declines. After some maneuvering and speaking with his lawyer, Bush is angled into agreeing to what he’d already asked Cheney for, but with Cheney making some very specific modifications.

At first I thought it was a little too on the nose, but once I saw where McKay was going with it, it seemed a worthy effort.

One complaint about the film is that, like Cheney’s original heart, the film just kind of coasts for Bush’s second term. Before the viewer is ready, Obama is being sworn in and Cheney is waiting for a heart donor to give him another 10 years at their expense.

Where that heart comes from is one of the more original aspects of the film. Like most of the rest of the film though, we’ll never know how close to the mark they hit on the actual donor. One can be sure that Cheney and his family know. Like everything else, though, their lips are sealed.

Which makes it complicated.

(**** out of *****)

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