When it came to politics my old man and I didn’t agree on a lot: getting rid of the death penalty was a good thing; voting on party lines was morally vacuous; and beware conviction politicians because they will inevitably fail to compromise. Otherwise he was generally what might be termed right wing and me a wishy-washy liberal metropolitan fence-sitter (his term). But when it came to the War on Terror and the second invasion of Iraq we were both on the same page. It was every shade of wrong.
For Brits this means blaming St Tone Of Blair (or if you rearrange the letters in his name that B. Liar) and all the other fools, naves and quisling peacocks who voted with him.
But one cannot ignore those Thanos clones across the Pond who invoke every kind of Satan. Bush, natch and that twilight de-sanguinator Rumsfeld. But I’d have put Cheney, the Dick of the title above a’ways down the To-Be-Bollockied list. Until I saw Vice, that is.
Most political dramas that are based on fact spend a lot of time in plush indoor settings or sweaty offices with lots of talking. You don’t need the big screen, Sensurround sound and Panavision saturated colour to make such things work so, if you’re going to justify spending money on filming you need a compelling story, well told.
Vice just about pulls that off. Now I’ll be the first to say me and the director are pretty much on the same page in many regards. Cheney, as much as Blair with their ‘end justifies the means’ post hoc apologia for Iraq et al piss me off. They were wrong; they remain wrong and a lot of what we see in Syria, in Turkey with the Kurds, in Iraq, in the continued infestation of the world with Daesh can be easily traced back to their policies. So far, so meah.
What makes these sorts of bio-esque pics worthy of spending the time is not the what or the how, but the why; why did Cheney end up where he did?
Adam McKay, the director, is an odd sort. He’s written for Saturday Night Live. His usual battleground is more satire than it is political discourse and analysis and that, in a way is what makes this film so watchable. His last big film was The Big Short which sought to explain how on earth a bunch of self aggrandizing douche-bags brought the financial system to the brink of collapse through their misuse of some clever financial instruments – securitisation and credit default swaps. It was the kind of subject that you would have thought would not lend itself to a film, yet, I think, he pulled it off with his mix of education and entertainment.
Same here. One minute your brain is leaking out of your ears as the characters grapple with Unitary Executive Theory based on Article 2 of the US Constitution – which was a new concept to this Brit and astonishing in its extreme interpretation and rather like, I suppose, trying to explain the point of Prince Andrew to a Texan and expecting something other than bemused incredulity. The next we had an hilarious scene set in a smart restaurant attended by Cheney, Rumsfeld, Wolfowitz and one other (forgot the name) where the menu, delivered perfectly by a supercilious Alfred Molina comprised Extraordinary Rendition, Guantanamo Bay and other dastardly dishes served up by the administration in the name of National Security.
Or we had the tense immediate aftermath to 9/11 and how Cheney reacted to the unfolding events, set against the moment when Cheney, who had always poo-poohed anyone taking on the Veep role as it was only fit for a stooge, deciding to do so but on his own terms – which scene had Cheney and Lynne his wife, in bed, acting out a scene from Macbeth. It sounds surreal; it often was but these were bark out loud laughter moments and eased the pressure on the grey matter to perform heroic feats of comprehension.
A lot of it was probably made up, pandering to my already well-formed prejudices: ‘But that would be torture,’ says one character. Cheney eyes him coldly. ‘The United States does not do torture.’ Pause. ‘So that can’t be torture, can it?’ Can’t fault the logic, just a shame about the morals.
If you saw ‘Post’ – the Hanks/Streep masterclass and liked it; if you’re old enough to remember ‘All The Presidents Men’ and enjoyed that the tour de force then I think you might enjoy this. Christian Bale is awesome in the main role; Amy Adams – goodness is she a great actress – is brilliant as Lynne, his wife and Steve Carrell stunning as Rumsfeld. Indeed the casting and acting are top notch. I very much doubt it is historically accurate. Hell, who cares. Recent history is always the most impenetrable. If you want accuracy wait until the main players are dead. If you want a smidge of history, a splattering of entertainment and you incline to the view that power does tend to corrupt, then give it a go. Just make sure you’re awake when you do.