Who’s really in charge?
Who’s really in charge? Matt Kennedy

MOVIE REVIEW: A chilling reminder of Cheney's transgressions

In the pandemonium of today's politics, it's easy to forget the transgressions of American administrations past.

It's possible the best thing to happen to George W. Bush's legacy will be that Donald Trump's circus came along and distracted everyone with his furious tweets, shouting in caps about perceived slights as dictated by cable news.

Who needs to remember the farcical "evidence" that compelled the so-called Coalition of the Willing into the quagmire that is the still-going Iraq War when there is the delicious possibility of impeachment looming?

Director Adam McKay (The Big Short, Anchorman) sure thought we needed some reminding with his biting Dick Cheney biopic-of-sorts, Vice.

The man behind the most powerful man in the world, Cheney turned the largely ceremonial vice presidency into a weapon to be wielded, to smite the enemy and amass riches for his allies with brutal efficacy.

Cheney's (Christian Bale) unusual influence is made apparent in Vice's opening scene, a dramatisation of what might have happened in the war room of the White House in the immediate aftermath of the 9/11 attacks.

Without even consulting Bush, Cheney gives Donald Rumsfeld (Steve Carell) "presidential authority" to shoot down any plane that cannot be identified. There's a look of grave concern on the faces of some in the room, including Condoleezza Rice (Lisa Gay Hamilton).

So who can you blame for Cheney? According to McKay, his wife Lynne (Amy Adams).

Flash back to 1963, and Cheney is a tradie, spending his days up an electricity pole and his nights on the bottle. He's been kicked out of Yale for being a "lush", enjoys the occasional bar room fisticuffs, and Lynne is having none of it.

Without her intervention, he may well have drunk himself to an early death, and maybe Abu Ghraib would never have happened - who knows?

MORE: Best movies of 2018 - the films you should've seen this year

 

Vice charts Dick Cheney's ascendancy from ne'er-do-well to vice president via interning for Donald Rumsfeld, as chief of staff to Gerald Ford (Bill Camp), congressman for Wisconsin, the older George Bush's Secretary of Defense and as the very well-paid boss of Halliburton, the military contractor that would go on to make bucketloads of money in Iraq and Afghanistan.

He's portrayed as an unassuming, calculating individual, obsessed with amassing power under the presidency, through a controversial concept known as Unitary Executive Theory.

The idea behind it - and Trump would love this - is that if the US president does something, then it can't be illegal, and therefore, anything the president does is A-OK.

Cheney finds in Bush Jr (Sam Rockwell), the perfect president to operate through - uninterested and malleable. In its zeal to paint Cheney as the devil, Vice lets Bush off the hook too lightly, always depicted as a lightweight cowboy too interested in popping M&Ms in his mouth to be culpable.

MORE: Aquaman is completely, unapologetically bonkers

“They misunderestimated me”.
“They misunderestimated me”. Matt Kennedy

Vice is a cynical, scathing indictment of America, where the realpolitik of selling influence to the highest bidder has gazumped any notion of morality or even ideology.

According to Vice, that Cheney is even a Republican was a matter of convenience and ambition, not based on some strongly held set of beliefs. Here, believing in anything is a cause for mockery.

McKay brings the same snap-fast rhythm and irreverent, almost sledgehammer, energy that made The Big Short such a creative success, even resurrecting the technique of using other famous actors to explain complicated concepts to us laypeople.

 

Christian Bale gained loads of weight for the role, before he realised fat suits were much more advanced than 10 years ago
Christian Bale gained loads of weight for the role, before he realised fat suits were much more advanced than 10 years ago

It's definitely entertaining and funny, if not horrifying, as you're reminded of the litany of offences (the torture memo, "weapons of mass destruction") and headline-making names (Scooter Libby, Karl Rove) that we've pushed out of our heads to make room for all the Trump malfeasance.

But Vice fails to be a deep character study, never really explaining his motivations or even theorising as to why Cheney is the way he is. Or perhaps that empty, soullessness is who we're supposed to believe Cheney is - but it comes off as too surface-y.

Bale's performance is effective and he has the mannerisms and Cheney's intonation down, but is it more than mere mimicry? I'm not sure.

While Vice can highlight all the ills with the system, and partly blame public apathy, its pessimism leaves you despairing as the credits roll - and not in a way that inspires action, only nihilism.

Rating: ★★★½

Vice is in cinemas from Boxing Day.

Share your movies and TV obsessions with @wenleima



Mayor offers olive branch in union dispute

premium_icon Mayor offers olive branch in union dispute

Union is taking council to court over perceived job losses.

WATCH: Emotional moment rare turtle released back to ocean

premium_icon WATCH: Emotional moment rare turtle released back to ocean

When Poly arrived she was covered in barnacles and parasites and was slightly...

'Show us the money,' Burnett mayor says to Sunwater

premium_icon 'Show us the money,' Burnett mayor says to Sunwater

Mayor 'fully expects' reimbursement for infrastructure moving costs.