A Civil Servant With a Thirst for Power: 'Vice' Review
Throughout a career spent primarily in government, Dick Cheney was an opportunist. He learned under his superiors, then used those lessons to create the kind of official he wanted to be. Vice stars Christian Bale as the man who served under four different Republican presidents, finally serving as the Vice President under George W. Bush. Once a wild young man in Wyoming, Dick was confronted about that by his wife, Lynne (Amy Adams). He takes those words seriously as they start a family, and first goes to the White House during the Nixon administration. Cheney works under economic advisor Donald Rumsfeld (Steve Carell), learning the sort of power words can wield. Because neither man has a close relationship with Nixon, they manage to retain work after Nixon's resignation. Cheney becomes President Ford's Chief Of Staff. After Ford leaves office, Cheney heads home to Wyoming and eventually runs for Congress. Despite suffering a heart attack during his campaign, he spends a decade as the state's Congressman before returning to the White House to serve as the Secretary Of Defense under George H. Bush.
At the end of the elder Bush's term, Cheney gets an executive position with Halliburton Oil, while Lynne devotes her time to writing and the raising of golden retrievers. After winning the Republican nomination to be their presidential candidate, George W. Bush (Sam Rockwell) approaches Cheney to scout running mates for him. When that search doesn't provide a suitable person, Bush asks Cheney about taking that position himself. He agrees, and becomes a lead in foreign policy. The younger Bush's administration sees Rumsfeld return as well. After 9/11, the administration looks to hold someone accountable for the attacks, and insist that Iraq conspired with the terrorists. Secretary Of State Colin Powell (Tyler Perry) even makes the case before the United Nations that Iraq had plans to build weapons of mass destruction. That leads to war and an attack on dissenters, such as Valerie Plame. Cheney's heart issues continue, however, and nearly cost him his life at one point.
In Vice and his previous feature, The Big Short, director Adam McKay has changed his focus from comedy to dramas with some comic perspective. While The Big Short focused on the factors that led to a housing market crisis, McKay has less focus here as he sometimes blends a mix of pop culture and politics in an awkward way. I get that McKay, who also scripted this picture, attempted to show popular events as a distraction from the serious events of the world, but I would have preferred that he'd left that angle alone and dealt with the main subject. Cheney, under the elder Bush, stood against war in the Middle East. He changed his tone under the younger Bush, and led the push for war against Iraq. McKay, however. succeeds in choosing the right narrative angle, as a combat veteran named Kurt (Jesse Plemons) narrates Cheney's story, only later revealing his connection to the man. I'm sure some will mind the liberal bias of McKay, but he at least admits to it, and defends his approach. He also shows Cheney's determined approach, with an explanation from the character for his actions at the end.
Bale becomes almost unrecognizable as Cheney. He quietly learns under Rumsfeld while developing his own forceful personality. In the Nixon White House, he listens more than he speaks, though he insists on making time for family. He lets his personality show in the Ford White House. He learns how to build his power by learning from other like-minded people. He shows he cares little for dissenting viewpoints. That extends to his own family. Dick may love his openly gay daughter Mary (Alison Pill), but heartily endorses his other daughter, Liz (Lily Rabe) when she runs for her father's old congressional seat, which includes an anti-gay stance. With the younger Bush, Cheney makes sure he controls the areas of government that interest him, as if he were still a CEO. Adams is also in fine form as Lynne, the wife who demanded more from her husband. Her demands also influence her husband as he applies her toughness to his career. Carell is solid in support as Rumsfeld, the teacher who eventually gets a lesson from his old student. Rockwell is funny as George W. Bush, who somehow believes that Cheney is a pal rather than as an opportunist. Alfred Molina has a cameo as a waiter, and Naomi Watts has a cameo as a news anchor.
Some parts of Vice are speculation, as Dick Cheney has taken steps to safeguard his privacy. For example, he managed to get his residence blocked from Google Maps. The former Vice President may be a different person outside that public eye, but in civil service, he became anything but civil. He saw how forceful persuasion achieved the desired effects, yet took ideas from others that helped to support his views. Some believe he was the real leader in the younger Bush's White House. The narrative of Vice tries too hard to add comic elements, and disrupts the flow of this interesting film. Dick Cheney learned how to be a voice of influence, and he made his influence something people didn't challenge without consequence.
On a scale of zero to four stars, I give Vice three stars. Power is Cheney's real vice.
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© 2019 Pat Mills