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Seeing Vice, the biopic featuring former Vice President Dick Cheney, completed Best Picture nominated films this week. I didn’t purposefully place this movie last. That’s the way it worked out with Regal’s viewing schedule. However, I admit this film appealed to me the least.
I’m not a political person. I say this with apologies to my grandson Dayan, who is a political science major at University of Missouri. There’s nothing wrong with political movies. They just aren’t anywhere near my favorite genre. Nonetheless, when I commit to watching all of the Best Picture films, I keep that intention even though it only matters to me.
As usual, I find that I learn from the movies I would not watch otherwise.
Vice stars Christian Bale, Amy Adams, Steve Carell, Sam Rockwell, Alison Pill, Lily Rabe, Tyler Perry and Jesse Plemons. Written and directed by Adam McKay, this historical drama carries an R rating, for moderate language and adult situations, and has a run time of 2 hours and 12 minutes.
Vice is nominated for 8 Oscars including Best Picture, Best Supporting Actress for Adams, Best Supporting Actor for Rockwell, Best Actor for Bale and Best Director and Best Original Screenplay, both for McKay.
Spanning four decades, Vice focuses on the life and political career of Dick Cheney (Bale) and his wife Lynne (Adams). As a young couple, Dick struggles to find his purpose in life. He drinks too much. He works menial jobs. After a second DUI charge, resulting in an overnight stay in jail, Lynne gives Dick “the” speech. “Get your life together…or I walk away.”
Fast forward a few years and Dick becomes a congressional intern for Donald Rumsfeld (Carell). The two become very close, working together on a variety of projects. Now a father to two daughters, Liz (Rabe) and Mary (Pill), Dick pursues a career that makes his wife proud.
Rumsfeld gets sent away, becoming an ambassador, due to conflicts with the Nixon administration. And then Watergate happens and Nixon is out. As one of the Republicans not involved in the scandal, Cheney promotes to Secretary of Defense, in the Gerard Ford White House, and then moves up to Chief of Staff.
Cheney researches the legal theory called the Unitary Executive Theory, which states, simply put, that anything the president does is legal because he or she is the president. Carter wins the next election, and Cheney is out of a job.
Back home in Wyoming, Dick runs for Congress. However, during his campaign, he experiences his first heart attack. Lynne campaigns on his behalf, and ultimately, Dick wins.
After Bush’s presidency, Cheney considers running for president. His numbers are low however. And his younger daughter, Mary, has come out as gay. Rather than risk his supportive relationship with her, Cheney opts out of running. Instead, he becomes the CEO of Halliburton, choosing involvement in the corporate world for many years, until George W. Bush (Rockwell) calls him.
Initially, Dick refuses the role of vice president, to GW Bush’s president. Lynne cautions her husband, calling the vice presidency a “nothing job”. Talking to George later, Dick asks for more than a typical vice president role. He wants to oversee major departments. And he wants his daughter Mary off limits. George agrees.
After a close race in the 2000 election, George Bush and Dick Cheney win the White House.
The White House Years
Once settled in, Dick has total oversight, including receiving intelligence briefings before the President. He gets tax breaks for the wealthy and places key personnel throughout the administration.
Tragedy strikes the United States on 9/11. Cheney makes decisions during that time that no other vice president has ever made. Post 9/11 Cheney and Rumsfeld focus in on Iraq and Sadaam Hussein, even though Colin Powell (Perry) wants to gather information on Al Qaeda in Afghanistan. Eventually the American people are convinced Saddam needs to be stopped. The war in Iraq begins.
Throughout these years, Cheney quietly moves forward, with the tenacity of a bull. The war doesn’t go as expected. ISIS comes into existence. War crimes are uncovered. Donald Rumsfeld takes the heat and is removed from office. And Dick Cheney’s heart gives out, literally, over and over again.
Finally, told there is no hope for recovery, Cheney faces death unless a heart donor can be found. In a bizarre twist in the film, one comes available.
The film concludes with an interview with Dick Cheney, in which the character breaks the fourth wall in the movie and looks directly at the audience. After being asked to defend his practices while in office, Cheney replies that he is fine with judgment and incrimination. He did what needed to be done so that our loved ones could sleep at night. We chose him. He did what we asked.
My Thoughts on Vice
The characterizations of these familiar politicians is amazing in this film. Christian Bale is unrecognizable, after gaining 40 pounds for the role, shaving his head and bleaching his eyebrows. He portrays Cheney so well that I forgot, frequently, that the man on the screen was not the former vice president. I’m reminded of Gary Oldham’s turn as Winston Churchill last year in Darkest Hour.
Amy Adams is marvelous as Lynne Cheney, who is a powerful person as well. All of the actors were carefully chosen for the roles they stepped into, and that care is very evident.
In a unique role, Jesse Plemons serves as narrator. The camera cuts to him between scenes as he explains what’s going on. His connection to Cheney is revealed, in a surprising way, near the end of the movie.
Perry and Carell as Colin Powell and Donald Rumsfeld, respectively.
My take aways from Vice are these:
It’s not just the one who holds power that influences events. It’s who has control. And sometimes the quietest among us are doing the most to create major shifts.
Vice is another film that is difficult to classify. Is it humor or drama, satire or smear? Perhaps it’s a character study of Dick Cheney. Or perhaps it’s more a commentary on the American people. I wrote at the beginning of this post that I am not a political person. At the end of Vice, I recognized the detriment in holding that belief. If these events in Vice happened, and fact checking shows that some of the scenes are creditable and some are not, then it is on me to be more aware, more involved.
It’s on all of us.
Vice opens up my awareness. It makes me want to study who people say they are and what their actions show about them, in the political arena. Vice possesses the potential to sharply divide people. But what if its true intention is to wake us up?
Working for Donald Rumsfeld, young Dick Cheney asks him, sincerely,
“What do we believe in?”
It’s a great question for Vice to leave me with. What do I believe in?
It’s Oscar Time!
I’m minutes away from the 91st Academy Awards. Curried lentils are bubbling in the slow cooker. Vegan snickerdoodle cookies and a hot cup of herbal tea await. I’ll be blogging through the awards show and post a second late post tonight.
Here are all my reviews, for the eight Best Picture Nominated films:
- Bohemian Rhapsody
- The Favourite
- Black Panther
- Green Book
- A Star is Born
- Vice (posted above)
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