• Andres Benatar

Dick Cheney Movie 2018

Vice: Our Deal With The Devil

It’s easy to label someone as evil, and it’s even more enjoyable to list every atrocity they committed in the name of some justified cause. But it’s hard to admit they couldn’t have done it alone, and in some ways, we were that source of help.

“I can feel your incriminations and your judgment, and I am fine with that. You want to be loved? Go be a movie star. The world is as you find it. You've gotta deal with that reality that there are monsters in this world. We saw 3,000 innocent people burned to death by those monsters, yet you object when I refuse to kiss those monsters on the cheek and say "pretty please." You answer me this, what terrorist attack would you have let go forward so you wouldn't seem like a mean and nasty fella? I will not apologize for keeping your family safe. And I will not apologize for doing what needed to be done so that your loved ones could sleep peacefully at night. It has been my honor to be your servant. You chose me. And I did what you asked. “

As monstrous as that speech is, and quite fitting given that it’s Halloween, there is something inherently terrifying yet equally admirable about the person muttering those fourth-wall breaking lines. Now, nobody can truly make a case for the actions taken by former Vice President Dick Cheney. The sheer fact that he holds no regret for any of the immoral acts his administration committed, or any of the blatant lies they peddled regarding Iraq, Guantanamo Bay, and Abu Ghraib prison are reprehensible. However, when looking back on September 11th, 2001, in addition to all the sense of togetherness that united so many people in the wake of a tragedy resulting from a terrorist attack, it still doesn’t wash away the nationalistic rage that compelled so many Americans to champion wars that didn’t need to be fought when the target was simply a terrorist group and nothing more. At the same time though, it was this same rage that triggered a sufficient amount of Anti-Arab and Anti-Muslim rhetoric to spiral out of control, forever forming the foundation of our national security state. So in a way, when Christian Bale’s Shakespearean portrayal of Dick Cheney says “You chose me. And I did what you asked,” it pretty much reflects just how much as Americans, we really are all in this together, and that includes all the horrors and violence we often tend to ignore or brush off as something that has become the norm in our modern culture, which is only devolving further and further into a surveillance state of Orwellian proportions.

More than two decades have passed since the terrorist attacks of September 11th, 2001. If anything has changed, outside of the withdrawal of troops from Afghanistan, then it is that the rhetoric surrounding a war, or a potential war with the type of legally flexible terms that can assign some form of justification for initiating the kind of armed combat that not only normalizes such daily horrors. It also means more money and more debt for wars that will most likely never be paid back.

The opening narration for Vice gives a satirical summarization of how in the current state of American culture, “As the world becomes more and more confusing, we tend to focus on the things that are right there in front of us. While ignoring the massive forces that actually change and shape our lives. With people working longer and longer hours, for less and less. When we do have free time, the last thing we want is a complicated analysis of our government, lobbying, international trade agreements, and tax bills. So it's no surprise that when a monotone bureaucratic Vice President came to power we hardly noticed. As he achieved a position of authority that very few leaders in the history of America ever have. Forever changing the course of history for millions and millions of lives.” That narration was given by Kurt?

Who Is Kurt?

A good question and the film does well to give what seems like a “fuck you answer,” but with love in a sense. On the surface, Kurt is presented as a narrator the film’s story keeps going back from time to time in what seems like an average working-class family man with an out of screen focus wife and infant child we hardly see as he diverts more attention back to the very audience he is trying to educate. In many ways, Kurt operates much like Ryan Gosling's fourth-wall-breaking narrator Jared Vennett from The Big Short, McKay’s previous film, in helping us understand the depths of Cheney’s actions and the rise to power that allowed him to commit them.

Dick Cheney: Our Monster

When it comes to films like Vice that operate on a historical framework, then naturally, there will be a gradual skepticism that is inherently unavoidable given that the most common criticism the film can garner is that it has a perceived political bias. In the case of a man, as hated as Dick Cheney, it’s only a given idea to believe that a film detailing the things he is most famous and responsible for would hardly take the approach to depict any element of sympathy towards him. Hell, the fact that an independent media channel called The Real News Network made a video talking about how the film underplays his evil actions shows that this film is more than just a depiction of his evil actions. It is about the role the American people played.

Love Dick Cheney ( very unlikely) or despise him (very likely), he was voted by the people of the United States alongside former President George W. Bush, twice. In those two terms, some expressed scorn and resentment for what the administration he was a part of, and from what the film shows to be mostly within his control. But, it doesn’t change the fact that a majority of the country voted for an administration that authorized or essentially rewrote how to legally define some of the most inhumane human rights abuses in U.S. combat history, all for the sake of satisfying the violent rage many American’s felt at the time of the 9/11 attacks, so much so that it was almost akin to a bloodthirst that now wishes to pretend as if Cheney is the only one to blame.

There is no condoning a man like Cheney. Christian Bale’s stoically calm and calculatingly robotic portrayal carries a monstrous essence that is both amusing to watch, yet terrifying to witness given that the masses helped fuel what is surely a dangerous man, which is what Bale commented on when he said “Cheney understood the power of silence” while comparing him to former President Trump, who could never be accused of being silent. But again, this is a film that dabbles in some level of historical relativism, not for the sake of conspiracies, but really for the sake of telling a story with limited resources concerning the central source, and when it comes to the secrecy that defines a man like Dick Cheney, then all bets of complete accuracy are off, and plenty of room for theatricality is in.

Vice’s Shakespearean Theatricality

It’s nothing new for creative storytellers to use or even directly reference Shakespeare in their work. However, it is rather a unique approach to use what seems like a Macbeth-inspired depiction of what is a former Vice President’s spouse, in this case, Lynne Cheney (Amy Adams) to add a somewhat empathetic lens of a man everybody, especially Christian Bale has good reason to refer to as “Satan.” Now, again, Vice does not justify or even give a sympathetic sense of Dick Cheney’s rise to power. But given that the film shows Dick Cheney’s pre-political life to be anything but the beacon of an American success story, combined with incessant drinking, and a wife heckling him about his failures, then it becomes clear what can motivate a man to go beyond fixing their life and holding on to the power that worked in rehabilitating and even ultimately defining his character.

The fantastic thing about Amy Adam’s Lady Macbeth-like portrayal of Lynne Cheney is hardly subtle, but never overplayed, and not once to a degree that borders on malicious. But, it doesn’t fear going into a territory that illustrates how calculating she is on equal terms with her husband’s sharp mind. In fact, the moment Dick gets the call to be George W. Bush’s running mate, she expresses how it is nothing more than a symbolic job where the Vice President simply waits for the President to die. Initially, Dick agrees, and although practical in his response, a small hint of defensiveness can be found in the manner in which he expresses agreement while at the same time saying he’ll hear George out. Once Cheney does realize the real power he can have as the VP from behind the scenes, whilst never stopping in his quest for even more power does it then become clear how much it is more than just a power stroke. If anything, it’s a reassurance to his wife and the family they forged that he isn’t the drunken failure who used to work as a lineman.

Again: Who F$ck Is Kurt?

Most film narrators guide us through the whole narrative of a film. Some of them even participate in the narrative of the film. In Kurt’s case, plenty of montage sequences showcase him as an Iraq War vet, and who better to tell an audience of what was really going on overseas than someone who witnessed actual carnage as opposed to a monster who sat in a comfy Washington office, orchestrating it? Kurt’s role in Adam McKay’s Vice is no doubt meant to educate while equally adding an extra flair of humor to the tone of a satire which often borders on being a horror film that has yet to determine the full extent of the ramifications it’s entailing.

Kurt manages to accomplish that up until the moment his speech is cut off by the car that strikes and essentially kills him. It’s a rare thing for a story-infused narrator to be killed, and in Kurt’s case, have his heart be then donated to save the very life of a monster that pretty much set the course for his own tour in Iraq and the accident that killed him. Now, a lot can be said as to whether this is true or not because the film operates on a level of historical dabbling that it openly acknowledges, while still trying to be an entertaining depiction of the one of most secretively influential people in U.S. history. But Kurt doesn’t need to be a specific real human being to help convey what he symbolizes in the whole context of what a film like Vice is initially tackling. If anything, Kurt is like many average Americans affected by forces both within and outside the actions of men like Cheney, and to add greater irony, his existence, both directly or indirectly paves the path for Cheney’s fourth-wall-breaking speech to mutter “You chose me. And I did what you asked,” with the kind of conviction that is both unwavering and horrifying in all the uncertainty this country still faces. Halloween is upon us, and although it is regarded as a holiday of horror, it pales in comparison to the invisible forces that should truly terrify us as opposed to the traditions that give us permission to find enjoyment in being afraid. Happy Halloween America!

Want more movies? Check these out:

Presumed Innocent

The Hustler (1961)

Andres Benatar is thepyrrhic.com resident film expert. You can hear him on the 'Cinema 237' podcast - A podcast for cinephiles.

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