Vice (2018)

The career of notorious US Vice-President Dick Cheney is given The Big Short treatment by Adam McKay in dark satire Vice.

Beware the Quiet Man

by Alexa Dalby


CAUTION: Here be spoilers

In Vice Christian Bale is an extraordinary and unrecognisable lumpy Dick Cheney and Amy Adams is a steely Lady Macbeth to his Macbeth as his wife Lynne.

Vice charts Cheney’s irresistible – yet, like Anchorman, rationally inexplicable – rise from drunken college drop-out to be the Vice President of the USA who seized charge of the country on 9/11, in the War Room deciding whether missiles should be launched, while the President, George W Bush, was reading a story about goats to primary school children.

The film credits Cheney’s early success to a metaphorical kick in the pants from his determined wife, who it presents as threatening to leave him if he doesn’t shape up. In many ways, his trajectory is comparable to the new US Attorney General Brett Kavanagh. And, similarly, when ambitious Lynne steps in to cover for him when he’s electioneering in his home state of Wyoming, it’s somehow also reminiscent of Barbara Bush’s substitution for Bush Senior on his Japan tour.

Early period Dubya, pre-office, is portrayed by Sam Rockwell as another drunk, who’s inadequate for the role his father feels he’s entitled to by birth. We see that Cheney rises to his stellar career heights initially through an internship as assistant to Donald Rumsfeld (Steve Carell) though the talent he discovers for unscrupulous intrigue and lust for power. He becomes chief of staff to President Ford and a has seat in the US House of Representatives for a decade. And making them an unstoppable power couple, Lynne becomes chair of the National Endowment for the Humanities.

Subsequently, Cheney exploits unitary executive theory to achieve his ends via President Bush – an interpretation of constitutional power that whatever a President does cannot be wrong: a President cannot break the law thus he can do whatever he likes – and with impunity. That’s another contemporary parallel discussed in relation to the current President: the escape route that he could, in fact, pardon himself for anything later held to be wrongdoing.

This grisly, satirical biopic, whose title is of course double edged, contains fantasy sequences, a false ending, graphics, speeches direct to camera and archive footage of wars US was involved in, in Iraq and Cambodia. At times it’s hilarious, at times there’s so much that you couldn’t make up that it’s spine-chilling. Yet you only have to look at what’s happening in the US now to see how the present day is prefigured but it still leaves you bemused as to how it could have been allowed to happen. It’s a hectic, angry condemnation of greed and corruption at the summit of power. Whether it was a suitable treatment for the subject has been debated by those who are more knowledgeable than me about Cheney’s career – but I learnt a lot from it.

Vice is released on 25 January 2018 in the UK.

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