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Vice Cannoli Send a noteboard - 28/12/2018 02:40:41 PM

"Vice" is part biopic and part documentary about Vice President Dick Cheney, directed by Adam McKay in a style similar to his prior work, "The Big Short", an excellent and informative movie about the housing market crash.

Unfortunately, this was not up to the standard. Whether it's the producers getting too cocky or emotionally invested and moving away from presentation in favor of self-indulgent expression or the gimmicks that made the dry topic matter of "The Big Short" fresh and interesting getting old and tired really quickly, "Vice" feels too gimmicky and too polemical. Regarding the last quality, I am not an admirer or supportter of Cheney, nor any of the Presidents in whose administrations he worked. But this film is just a muckraking attemtpt to smear him any way it can. It's entertaining fairly often, which is unsurprising given the proven talents at work. Christian Bale disappears into the role of Cheney at all stages of his adult life and with his expanding girth, and Amy Adams plays Lynne Cheney, his wife, likewise doing a pretty good job of playing a much older woman. Adams is about the same age Mrs Cheney was in 1985, which is maybe one scene in the movie. She plays Lynne in the 1960s, in her 20s, in the seventies, in her 30s, and largely in the 21st century, when Lynne was in her 60s.

Cheney, according to the movie, became a congressional aide and gravtiated toward Representative Donald Rumsfeld, whose patronage got him a job in the White House, which in turn, moved him up further when Rumsfeld became Chief of Staff to President Ford. They engineered the removal of Henry Kissinger, causing a series of internal promotions that saw Rumsfeld moving to a cabinet post and Cheney into his shoes as Secretary of State. In the Carter administration he ran for Congress and won and garnered a choice committee assignment during the 80s, culminating in Secretary of Defense under Bush 41, then a highly paid corporate job with Halliburton during the Clinton years, culminating in his turn as Vice President.

Rather than scenes which demonstrate the policies and politics at work, the filmmakers prefer the dramatic scenes to illustrate the character and relationships of the Cheneys and Dick's inner circle and leave the political exposition to fourth-wall breaking narration by Jesse Plemmons, an everyman character and serviceman during the War on Terror, and occasionally Naomi Watts as a news anchor. They also use the image of Cheney fly fishing (his Secret Service code name is apparently Angler & Lynne's is Author; I seem to recall hearing somewhere that they try to alliterate code names for relatives) as a thematic illustration, especially when he is working at selling Bush 43 on his plan for a more active role for the Vice President.

Unfortunately, the tone and message of the film are all over the place. They start out with a title card disclaimer that it's hard to know the details about his life, because Cheney is one of the most secretive (or competently private) leaders in history, which undercuts a lot of the little details they stick in there, whose only purpose can be to make Cheney out to be a bad guy. In fact, I actually came away with a better impression of Cheney then I had going into the film. I, and most people, know him as a ruthless & manipulative behind the scenes bureaucrat, who worked through politicians because he lacks the charisma and political presence to be elected dog catcher (during his first congressional campaign he performs very badly on the stump until one of his first cardiac episodes forces him into bed rest and sends Lynne out on the campaign trail in his stead, strongly suggesting he owed his seat to combination of Lynne's performance, his name recognition as former Chief of Staff and Wyoming's rightward political leanings [to the apparent chagrin of two authors I've read, who have extensive series set in that state, Craig Johnston & CJ Box ] ).

What the film showed was a devoted family man with a strong marriage and close relationships with his children. Is he secretive, or just private? The film says one thing, but presents a strong case for the latter and not by intention. The point of the family stuff seems to be to set up a supposed betrayal in the film's final act. When Mary Cheney comes out to her parents, Dick waits only a couple of beats before putting his arm around her and telling her it doesn't matter, they love her no matter what. In another work, those beats might suggest hesitation or insincerity, but they've already established that Dick is a quiet and deliberate man who does not blurt things out or act impulsively, and that pause before speaking is practically a character trait. Throughout the entire film, the Cheneys go out of their way to protect Mary and her privacy. Dick emphatically decides against running for president when poor exploratory poll results show he'd have a rough primary fight that could incite opponents to use his daughter's sexuality against him. One of his conditions for joining the Bush ticket it a limit on how far Bush is allowed to push homosexual issues, so that there is no blow-back on Mary. But ultimately, after Dick was five years out of office, Mary's sister Liz, in a tough Senate race, responded to her opponent portraying her as socially liberal by declaring her opposition to same-sex marriage. According to the movie, Dick gave her a nod of approval when she floated the idea and Mary claims Liz would never have dared take that position without his approval. This, coming as late as it did in Dick's life, is one of the final scenes in the film, and Mary's hysterical reaction is supposed to be a validation of her father's portrayal as evil. This is a grown married woman and mother in her forties, and she STILL expects to be pampered and coddled and her difference to be the governing factor in her family members' decisions. You can oppose same-sex marriage as a legal position while supporting same-sex relationships (or even being in one). You can have immigrants in your family (or be one) and oppose immigration. Public policy positions do not have to personally align with private life. I have no children, do not like them very much or feel any lack and have never owned or used a gun, but I do not support gun control or abortion, nor do I feel the least bit hypocritical in supporting the rights of people to do so. I believe any number of things are wrong and still oppose banning them, such as drugs, and any number of things are inherently good and right for everyone, and oppose their legistlative imposition or even subsidization and support. After 3 decades of her parents going out of their way to protect Mary, are they also required to suppress and squelch their middle-aged daughter's attempts to make her own career and give her own children the chance to be overpaid of a flop of a memoir as Mary got? The movie beats the drum highlighting the Cheneys' support and protection of Mary from the moment she comes out to them, and it's all invalidated by a single anecdotal, and possibly fictitious, slip? The strongest evidence in support of Dick's approving Liz's stance is that he is supportive of his daughters. Mary is the one demanding that he pick sides, that her needs for support transcend her sister's and the film appears to agree with her. And bear in mind, this is the same film that includes a caveat that they simply lack information on a great deal of Cheney's life.

Other things that strictly speaking, do not have much to do with Cheney, but the filmmakers hate and tie them all together, include the rise of Fox News and "opinion media". According to "Vice", Cheney and company, through Fox News, changed the scary phrase "Global Warming" to "Climate Change", one that people would feel more comfortable ignoring. This is news to a conservative who grew up with the phrase global warming, and was under the impression it was the green fringe who changed their terminology because the annual arrival of winter and the attendant meterological phenomena made "Warming" a very hard threat to sell. Fun personal fact: For my environmental science class in senior year, I was delayed turning in a project on global warming because extreme ice conditions closed school for a week. Anyway, while Fox News might be the most successful CABLE news show, the major network news shows would be purged with mass firings if their ratings dipped down into Fox News levels. The idea that Cheney's behind the scenes efforts at repealing the Fairness Doctrine turned CBS, NBC, ABC, Fox network, the NY Times and the Washington Post conservative and tricked them into using conservative terminology, switching from "estate tax" to "death tax" is ridiculous. That the only example they provide beyond the questionable switch to "climate change" is the aforementioned tax, which is a miniscule drop in revenue, renders the time spent on this argument pointless. I would really like to see Adam McKay's reaction to being told his film cannot be released without an explicitly right-wing film being made by the same studio, with the same budget, exposure, number of screens and promotional efforts.

The film makes a big deal out of the fact that Cheney had a heart transplant, and that someone died to provide that heart...but that's how heart transplants work. That's where they come from. Everyone who has ever had a heart transplant has done so because someone else died. I really thought they were going to state or imply that the Cheney's arranged to kill a patsy to obtain one, the way the film was going.

Another idea that is pushed strongly throughout the movie is Cheney's expansion of Executive power. This is another thing that works against their intention to portray him as sinister, since it demonstrates that this is his view of the Presidency, and not simply a power grab he made once he had a man in the Oval Office. A Congressman throughout the Reagan administration, film Cheney expressly states at that time, that as much as he admires Reagan, he's disappointed that he did so little to expand the power of the office. Now I have a similar suspicion of the concentration of executive power, and I am completely opposed to the view Cheney is portrayed as having. But the movie establishes it as his ideological position. It's what he believes, not a scam or self-serving claim. What's more, it is not one remotely unique to Cheney or the GOP. Executive power expanded under Clinton and Obama as well, and I have my doubts about the film's denial that Reagan did anything in that regard either.

This is hardly a new failing of the Left, who demonized Richard Nixon for discussing maybe doing what Roosevelt, Kennedy and LBJ had been doing for decades, such as using the IRS and FBI against political adversaries, but it's disappointing that these are grounds they use to villify Dick Cheney in particular. There are any number of issues in the film where traits are portrayed as faults, with innocent alternative explanations being readily available. Cheney at one point demands to see ALL the intelligence data that is coming in, rather than the sanitized and edited briefings. This is shown as illustrative of his high-handed exercise of power, but it's a pretty reasonable position for an official making life and death decisions based on reports compiled and summarized by bureaucrats and functionaries, who have long been known to shape policy by their methods presentation of material to decision-makers. Another nefarious action is his keeping offices at various government facilities, such as the CIA or House of Representatives office building or the Department of Defense. Unless some laws are being broken (which is the sort of information I would much rather the movie focused on instead of the house of cards case that Dick insufficiently coddled his lesbian daughter), all we are seeing is a man who works very very hard.

Ultimately, the image of Dick Cheney the movie shows, when you cut through all the bullshit, like an extended sequence of shots of his heart transplant procedure, with a camera lingering on the empty chest cavity, like some sort of freshman (in high school) film student's exercise in symbolism, you get a flawd man, who is decent in his personal life, who works hard, compiles information when making decisions, is cool under pressure (his composure during his various heart attacks is one of the ways the film portrays him in an admirable light), and ultimately, acts in what he thinks is his country's best interest, however much partisan individuals such as Adam McKay and myself might disagree. And an exclamation point is put on that characterization by a closing monologue where Dick turns to the camera and breaks the fourth wall, House-of-Cards style.

Then we are subjected to a montage of fly fishing lures during the end credits, shaped like things the filmmakers disapprove of in another excessive and heavy handed symbolic bit that goes on too long, and a mid-credits scene calling back to an earlier portrayal of a focus group, which attempts to lampshade the film's political leanings with a strawman argument, that might be trying to be even-handed or might simply be another instance of dishonetly inflating a weak case.

It's not without entertainment value, and the acting performances are particularly good. I think his two films with McKay might be my absolute favorite performances by Steve Carrell (here as Rumsfeld). Sam Rockwell is vaguely disappointing, being about as believable a variation of Bush as Josh Brolin's in "W"; it's really only disappointing next to Bale, Carrell and Adams and company. Others of note are Tyler Perry as Colin Powell, and Eddie Marsan as Paul Wolfowitz (with his recent portrayl of Shimon Peres, he's corning the market on creepy Jewish warmongers; the next edition of "Protocols of the Elders of Zion" should nail him down to pose for the illustrations). The role and motivations of Cheney & Rumsfeld in instigating the Iraq War and their contributions to exacerbating the War on Terror and the rise of ISIS are also very well exposed. But the tricks and fourth-wall gimmicks that kept "The Big Short" moving feel more like preachy distractions in this film. Plemmons' narrator character claims he has a connection to Cheney though they don't interact at all in the film, and they're coy about it saving it for a climatic reveal that isn't as surprising, let alone shocking as they wish. In fact, I expected something more significant and worse, before I accepted it was only going to be what it was.

There is a good case to be made against Dick Cheney, that "Vice" waters down with its fallacious positions. Even the title. There's no real reason to call it "Vice", supported only by Dubya using the word as shorthand for Dick's ultimate office a few times. But it's another chance to take petty shots at Cheney by using a "bad" word to associate him. Honestly "Dick" would have been such a better title that half the time before seeing, I thought that's what it actually was.

It's not a boring or bad movie, but it could have been better done, and I expected much better from the filmmakers' track records.

Cannoli
“Tolerance is the virtue of the man without convictions.” GK Chesteron
Inde muagdhe Aes Sedai misain ye!
Deus Vult!
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Vice - 28/12/2018 02:40:41 PM 200 Views
You read the Joe Pickett and the Longmire series? - 29/12/2018 09:36:16 PM 67 Views
Re: You read the Joe Pickett and the Longmire series? - 30/12/2018 05:29:22 AM 79 Views
I haven’t watched any of the series-don’t currently have Netflix - 30/12/2018 07:14:23 AM 56 Views
I felt much the same. McKay really hates Fox News - 18/01/2019 06:38:34 PM 40 Views

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