Adam McKay’s pulp-y, Machiavellian and propagandistic portrayal of Dick Cheney in ‘Vice’ is a delight to witness in all its SNL-like gonzo-ness, graphic artistic montage and theatrical overkill. The film depicts Dick (played by the excellent Christian Bale) as a power-lusting, war-and-intel matrix manipulator of the highest degree – a DC Swamp slitherer and Neocon pirate who first cut his reptilian fangs during Richard Nixon’s opprobrious admin and under the rabble-rousing tutelage of Donald ‘Rummy’ Rumsfeld, no less.
He subverts senior statesman Henry Kissinger, courts the military-industrial complex, coaxes and cajoles the Koch Bros, gets co-opted by Haliburton and becomes the firm’s big swinging Dick, cons G.W. into global conflict under the “pretense of WMD”, skirts the Geneva Convention, and engages in legalistic subterfuge (look up ‘unitary executive theory’) like no veep has done before. The consequences: countless American grunts get drawn into the crossfire and killed, hundreds of thousands of Iraqi civilians get the butt end of things, and just about everyone on planet earth is denied social justice, democracy, human decency and a clean climate. Or at least that is what the writer-director would have you believe.
It’s abundantly obvs that Adam McKay deeply dislikes his protagonist (he also deftly demonized Wall Street in his distortion of a film, ‘The Big Short’, back in 2015). His polemic basically amounts to a kind of proto-’Trump derangement syndrome’ (TDS) transmitted via Vice President Cheney – the erosion of civic institutions; the fabrication of ‘alt facts’ and geopolitical fabulations; the emergence of a semi-authoritarian leader who hijacks the White House and wrecks the free world; and tsunami waves of rancor directed at war-hawk Republicans and their ideologically kooky CATO/AEI ilk.
This flick is rage-bait for progressives and globalists alike. But it is a fucking fierce delineation of the things that unfolded after 9/11 and stays pretty close to the historical record, despite the artsy cinematic artifice. Adam shows Dick Cheney as a world historical figure, albeit a wily one, with a savvy skill set comprised of discipline, craftiness, good luck, a super strategic spouse (go Lynne Cheney!) and an ability to warp reality at will. Actor Jesse Plemons (you know him from ‘Breaking Bad’) provides rando narration throughout the picture and connects with the main character in an awesome and ironic way (having to do with Dick’s artery-clogged ‘heart of darkness’).
We love the farcical scenes of statecraft and skulduggery, the mental means and methods by which Cheney & Co. intercept/metabolize/garble the CIA’s daily intel streams; the intriguing synthesis of psychohistory, domestic drama, legal perversions, political lampoonery and the writer-director’s intelligent way of integrating it all into a singular sketch-comedy plot. There are plenty of Shakespearean plugs as well, especially when it comes to Lynne and Dick’s mutually beneficial partnership/marriage and Dick’s deliberate displacement of a bumbling Dubya. Steve Carell plays a dorky version of Donald Rumsfeld (we’ve seen better) and Kirk Bovill plays a Teutonic-accented Henry Kissinger – the NSA to Presidents Ford and Nixon.
This film is great even though it essentially amounts to left-wing theater. It is a conspiratorial account of past and present geopolitical and pop cultural events that attributes fault to the veep’s unbridled rapacity. But it is super relevant nonetheless and makes you think about all the WTF events that transpired over the years and transmuted the world in ways we never saw coming. As one critic comically put it, “the motley pageantry of our politics — the endless arguments about race, class, religion, ideology, sex, region, and heritage that have defined the republic since the beginning — boils down to a single personality. All you really need to know about the world today is that everything wrong with it is Dick Cheney’s fault.” Go see it asap and LOL!
Images via Annapurna Pictures + Plan B Entertainment + Gary Sanchez Productions
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