"Vice" – Looking Back on the Cheney – Bush AdministrationCulture Watch
tags: presidential history, Culture watch, film review
Bruce Chadwick lectures on history and film at Rutgers University in New Jersey. He also teaches writing at New Jersey City University. He holds his PhD from Rutgers and was a former editor for the New York Daily News. Mr. Chadwick can be reached at email@example.com.
On February 11, 2006, my late wife and I were driving home to New Jersey from Washington, D.C., on the New Jersey Turnpike. It was snowing outside and bitterly cold. Suddenly, a radio announcer interrupted the music channel to tell the world that “Vice President Dick Cheney has shot somebody.”
I roared with laughter. This man had turned over just about every apple cart he could find in his life and now the fool has gone off and shot someone.
I thought about that moment over the weekend when I saw Vice,the new biography film about Dick Cheney that has been earning numerous awards and award nominations since it opened a few weeks ago. Last week it opened nationally.
This article’s title notes the Cheney-Bush Administration and not, properly, the Bush – Cheney Administration because director/screenwriter Adam McKay makes you think that Cheney ran the country. Bush was apparently out playing baseball somewhere for eight years.
Despite all of its early accolades, Vice, produced by Plan B Entertainment,is not a very good movie. Well, it is if you just simply hate Dick Cheney or George W. Bush.
In the movie, Christian Bale (who is superb in the role and deserves an Oscar nomination), portrays Cheney as a four-star dunce. At first, he is a man going nowhere. Then his overly ambitious wife Lynne reads him the marriage riot act and tells him to make something of his life. He does. He gets himself a job as a Washington intern and then becomes an aide to Donald Rumsfeld (“Rummy”) and moves up the ladder, holding down the jobs of Chief of Staff to President Ford and Secretary of Defense for President George H.W. Bush. In between, he spent ten years representing his home state, Wyoming, in Congress. He was asked to be George W. Bush’s running mate in 2000 and turned him down (he didn’t want to give up his high paying private sector job as head of the controversial Halliburton Company). Bush pushed him, though, and he accepted. After that, Cheney becomes a battering ram for the Republicans. Cheney certainly was a powerful Vice President and gave George Bush plenty of advice, but it was Bush, and not Cheney, who made all of the key decisions, all of which are harpooned by the director in the film.
If you accept the director McKay’s view, Bush was really just an aide in Cheney’s White House. The director would have you believe that Cheney orchestrated every single move in the administration.
Bush and Cheney made some colossal mistakes and did dupe the public. McKay should get high marks for the way he portrayed the disgraceful way, as an example, in which Bush and Cheney forced General Colin Powell to deliver that famous U.N. speech loaded with misstatements of fact on Iraq and prodded him and everybody to believe that Sadam Hussein had warehouses full of nuclear weapons when he actually had none. Did they do everything wrong? They did get re-elected.
McKay gets a splendid performance by Bale. He is young and tough at the start of the film and old and tough at its conclusion. In the film Bale looks and acts exactlylike Cheney. Amy Adams is just as impressive as Lynne Cheney, the driving force in Cheney’s life. Sam Rockwell, as George W. Bush, seems to appear quickly between long scenes about Cheney. He is unimpressive. Steve Carrell is quite good as Donald Rumsfeld.
The history in the film is vague, choppy and unconvincing. According to the movie, the history of Bush’s tenure is one long carnival style conspiracy full of governmental villains around every corner and at the end of every phone call. Cheney, the Dark Prince, and his henchmen ran the country and ran it into the ground, according to the film. They stripped citizens of their rights, tortured everyone short of George Clooney and tapped the phones of all the Muppets.
Surprisingly, nowhere in the film does anybody call Cheney the “Darth Vader” of politics, the term his enemies used so frequently during his years in office. He isseen as the evil lord of the Universe. McKay constantly comes up with reasons why Cheney had so much power and they make no sense. I was startled by the explanation that he had great power because he had his Vice President’s office, two offices in the Senate, one in the House of Representatives and one in CIA headquarters. Hey, I know lawyers who have offices in numerous cites and are still bad lawyers. So what?
McKay takes every opportunity to make fun of Cheney, especially in scenes when he is sleeping or brushing his teeth. OK, the guy’s job approval rating was as low as 13%, but he could still brush his teeth.
On many accusations, though, McKay is right. How did Cheney manage to get away with all of these shenanigans? Wasn’t anybody watching? Weren’t the lights on?
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