VICE - Adam McKay (2018) | Film ReviewsteemCreated with Sketch.

in #review5 years ago (edited)

The new film on the life of Dick Cheney, former Secretary of Defense, Vice-President, and war criminal. WARNING: SPOILERS.


There, maybe that caught your eye.

I went to see this Friday - the 4th - in theatres alongside my girlfriend and I must say that it's a very funny movie. I think I probably laughed more then anyone else in the theatre. (There were about twenty other people attending the showing.) I found things funny that seemingly no one else did: "It was... the 80s." Stuff like that.

I for one enjoyed it immensely.

The Question of What the Thing Is, Exactly
What is Vice? It's a good question, because a lot of people don't seem to quite get it.

It's not a mockumentary. Those present fictional events as though it was a documentary recording reality. The stuff in Vice, with very few exceptions, all actually happened - it's simply been exaggerated.

It's a satire. And a biopic. And just perhaps an expose, almost, bringing to light someone who has been called the most powerful Vice-President in American history. And in that respect, for as much as I found it funny, I found myself angry and horrified.

My Face is Not Your Face (or, The Shape of Gerald Ford's Head)
A film like this, given that its cast of characters has been so photographed that their faces are well-known, far well-known then, say, William Seward's would've been to the audience of a film about Abraham Lincoln, it is important - as it was in History's Watergate - to get the right cast to play your characters.

You will be pleased to know that where Douglas Hodge landed solidly in the uncanny valley as Richard Nixon, the same can not be said of this film's cast.

Indeed, Christian Bale subsumes himself into Dick Cheney, seemingly, and by way of having gained 45 pounds and some very impressive makeup work that you could be convinced you were watching the actual Dick Cheney. Amy Adams is similarly impressive as his wife Lynne.

Steve Carrell and Sam Rockwell both do excellently as Rumsfeld and Dubya Bush respectively, though they don't match up quite as well.

The rest of the cast ranges from iffy to how'd-they-go-with-that-guy - many actors giving what I'm going to call "the Hodge effect." All the features are there that you might expect from a description of the person, but it looks different. Everything's there, and it's all wrong. For the most part this effect isn't as strong, in large part because many of them weren't onscreen as much as Hodge was.

There is one exception to this "not as strong" and this ironically is for someone who appears in the film very, very little - and it is Bill Camp as Gerald Ford. Camp looks so completely different from Ford that I didn't know who he was meant to be until it was indicated.

Camp would be an excellent demonstration of the Hodge effect but for that he's a terrible demonstration of it. You could easily show Hodge was meant to be Nixon. Trying to convince that Camp was meant to be Ford, on the other hand... We-e-e-e-lll....

That said, not merely solid but impressive performances all around. Bale as Cheney was perfect, as was Adams as Lynne Cheney. Carrell's Rumsfeld didn't quite match the man but it was very close and I think it's entirely down to script and to this being a film about Cheney. I can't comment on Rockwell's Bush as I have not seen enough of the actual Dubya in motion but all accounts say it was similarly excellent as the aforementioned three. Tyler Perry's Colin Powell, on the other hand, is simply odd...

Will the Real Dick Cheney Please Stand Up?
Though this film is very funny and highly entertaining, this does not mean it is necessarily historically accurate. It paints Cheney and Rumsfeld as totally lacking in principle, the sole architects of the Iraq War, and even manages to tie Cheney into the founding of Fox News. Cheney asks Rumsfeld, "What do we believe in?"

Rumsfeld bursts into laughter. Of course that never happened. The idea that it might seems even to me a fundamentally ludicrous one.

Later on, Cheney asks Rumsfeld to resign - something else completely fictionalized. The conversation between he and his daughter Mary, after Liz goes on television to say that he is against gay marriage completely, again an invention of the writer.

It's not just small stuff like that, of course. Was Dubya Bush really the asinine fool the film claimed he was, prone to change his mind based off of Cheney's words? Perhaps, perhaps. Rockwell doesn't really play him like one, which is probably a good thing. Did Colin Powell doubt his speech to the UN? He has said himself that at the time he thought it correct, as did the President and Congress. It is up to you. Tyler

We see very, very little of Condoleezza Rice - she barely utters two dozen lines over the course of the entire film. McKay would have you believe in Cheney, assisted by Rumsfeld, as sole architects of the Iraq War.

He is presented with some humanity. It is his love for Lynne that inspires him to achieve great things (at once a negative version of the "great man of history" theory and the MacBeth theory of power, which states "Behind every terrible man is an even worse woman," which... yeah, it speaks for itself, doesn't it), and when his daughter Mary tells him she is gay, he says to her that this does not matter, that he still loves her.

(In the end, even this is taken away, during the fictionalized sequence where Mary calls him.)

Little sense is given on how Cheney managed to work his way through the ranks. First he is presented as someone who attaches himself, as a lackey does, to Rumsfeld, albeit with glimmers of ambition. (It is he, apparently, who recalls Rumsfeld from Brussels to join the Ford Administration. Never mind that Rumsfeld was a close friend of Ford.)

And then, he becomes CEO of Halliburton. Finally, presented with the second-rate (if not third-) Dubya, he goes full-on Machiavellian. There is even a (absolutely hilarious and completely fantastical) scene where he and his wife's pillow talk turns theatrically Shakespearean.

How does this all quite happen? We only really get a sense for how he gets power within the Bush administration.

What's more, there's no sense of history outside of the Arc of Cheney. Nixon, Ford, Bush 41 and Bush 43 - they are all props. Cheney rose far, yes, but how?

How I Went in One Day From Purchasing (and Reading Some Of) A Progressive Feminist Magazine to Accidentally Reading a White Nationalist Website
Oh boy. Okay. So what happened was this:

Before we went to the theatre we went to Ann Arbor to a couple bookstores. At the first, I purchased The Familiar, Vol. 1: One Rainy Day in May by Mark Z. Danielewski, and the Winter-Spring '19 issue of n+1, a literary-cultural-political magazine writing from an unashamedly, outspokenly progressive, feminist viewpoint. Naturally, I'm loving it. (Conservatives like to mutter about liberal bias. There is a lot more conservative bias then they like to think there is.)

At another bookstore I purchased The Music of Finland. We went to a tea haus. We went to the theatre and read for a while as we waited for the approach of the showing.

We went in, saw the film, left. In the car we agreed that Cheney Rumsfeld Bush et. al. should be shipped to the Hague; war crimes; etc. I began looking around for other reviews, so as to better inform my own opinion. Many were positive and aligned with my own thoughts. I searched for more mixed, more nuanced, even negative reviews.

I found one. Dear reader, I should have known immediately. But the language first seemed fine, a respectable conservative counterbalance. Certain hints of language ought to have clued me in. The comments did. Triple parentheticals. The acronym WN. I looked to the sidebar. A stream of bile awaited me.

And that is the entertaining story of how I went from reading a wonderful magazine to a terrible website for terrible people.

And What About Everything Else?
Of course there's more to this movie than (mostly) brilliant acting and imperfect history. It's also very, very funny. I refer to the Shakespearean dialogue; how about the fake credits sequence; there's meeting Antonin Scalia and the theory of the unitary executive; the most literal of ways to show how Cheney makes something very strange sound wholly rational. Or even the scene where political machinations are literally offered up on a platter by a waiter to the four men at a dinner table.

It's topical - we see Pence, HRC, Jeff Sessions: a reminder that many of the people from back then are still around, shaping things.

The music! My word, the music. It's important to realize that the composer isn't scoring to Cheney's actual life but the semi-fictionalized exaggeration McKay's putting on screen. The composer must therefore strike a balance between exaggeration without becoming irritating - and it must also be sincere, to an extent, and pretend that it is not the music for a comedy.

The composer Nicholas Britell handles this exceptionally well. Not only is it an excellent score within the film it is an excellent score on the album. I shan't say more; I may just review the score myself.

Something truly impressive is McKay's usage of cameras to mimick the 2000s and the way television looked. Most of the time, when directors do this, they're content to simply add a filter. Not so. McKay appears to have actually gone out and found the cameras used in the original footage, and so the viewer is left with the bizarre dissonance of seeing the fictionalized character do and say what the original did - on the same kind of camera, presented as though it were genuine historical footage.

One last thing. During the film, a focus group is featured. Mid-way through the credits, the real ones, it comes back. Here's roughly how it goes. I have drawn from memory and therefore will not be including quotation marks.

A man in a sports jersey says, it's liberal, filled with liberal bias.

Another, in a collar and glasses, replies that it's all facts. They had to vet this.

Sports Jersey replies, You'd probably say that, libtard, I bet you like Hillary.

Okay, first off, Hillary's not President, your orange cheeto is. And how is understanding facts a liberal trait. Shortly after this, the two men devolve into scuffling as others of the focus group attempt to pry Sports Jersey off of Glasses. The camera turns to a young woman watching impassively who turns to her neighbor.

I can't wait to see the new Fast & Furious movie. It looks lit.

What's it mean? The stupidity of Trump's supporters. The still-alive idea that facts mean something to conservatives. (They don't.) And the ambivalence of so many of the young towards politics. A reminder that none of us are perfect. That some of us are less perfect then others. Your mileage may vary.

concluding thoughts.png
I found it very, very funny, but this is not the real Dick Cheney. It will provide little insight into the man himself and zero insight into the times he lived in, the changes in politics and ideology around him that allowed him to rise so far.

Your enjoyment, therefore, will vary according to your political views and your expectations. This certainly is aimed at an audience that comes to it from the viewpoint of "Cheney had a net negative impact on the world," and McKay's comments that anyone can enjoy this are either blindly optimistic or spoken purely for publicity's sake. (I suspect and hope for the latter.) Time will tell how well this film stands up to rewatching, but I suspect not hugely well.

My interpretation of this film goes like this: We don't know enough about Dick Cheney. This, in my opinion, is the message conveyed best, the message conveyed better than any of the others it is or might be conveying.

This film does leave, however, the field open for a definitive history of Dick Cheney - but I expect it will be a long, long time before it is written or filmed.

If you're interested in the other stuff I've written, I have a 2017-18 Masterpost which links to everything.


Hello @terry93d, thank you for sharing this creative work! We just stopped by to say that you've been upvoted by the @creativecrypto magazine. The Creative Crypto is all about art on the blockchain and learning from creatives like you. Looking forward to crossing paths again soon. Steem on!

I watch a LOT of films. I couldn't bring myself to watch this one. It felt like a Hollywood circle jerk. Hollywood is incapable of impartiality when it comes to politics. Seeing Bale's comments on why he was cast as Cheney only reinforced my supposition.

This film definitely comes from a viewpoint that Cheney and Rumsfeld had a net negative effect on the country and the world. It's a viewpoint that matches mine, but looking at McKay's remarks that the film can really be watched by anyone, I think he's either optimistically blinded or saying that purely for the purpose of publicity.

I don't know if impartiality is always such a noble objective in politics, or at least political media. There's this assumption that between two viewpoints the truth lies, when that is not always the case. It's a bias that always ends up favoring conservatives because conservatives have - ever since the Nixon days - much, much less restraint on the awful things they're willing to say and do to maintain power. If one supported Bush and Cheney to their worst lows, a/or supports Trump, who is constantly finding new lows... what film is going to be impartial enough? What's the likelihood of any film, no matter how impartial, changing one's mind? How many facts, surveys, polls must be cited before "fake news," "lies," "liberal bias" stops being chanted, drone-like, every time reality gets a mention? Nothing will satisfy them. Nothing.

TL;DR: Impartiality doesn't matter too much to me, at least in Hollywood, because "impartiality" usually equals conservative bias.

IN ANY CASE though you are correct that it is not impartial and that it does preach to the choir. I probably should spell that out explicitly in my review, instead of leaving it implicit. I have revised the 'Concluding Thoughts' section to make that explicit.

Not sure I agree with all that, but particularly Hollywood doing politics. It would be different if they didn’t have a need to create charicatures. I pan films all the time for lacking character development. I’m the case of politics, that is generally the case.

I forgot to thank you for the first comment, so consider this thanks for both your original comment and your response to my response to your comment. :)

I think in the case of politicians that the creation of a caricature is especially difficult to avoid because it's difficult to compress a life that may last for fifty, sixty, seventy years into the span of two-ish hours and still achieve the multiferous (is that a word? if it wasn't before, it is now) goals of comprehensibility, narrative, accuracy. In real life, it takes months, years to learn about a person. In film, a specific set of scenes can convey all that information in just a couple minutes. What do you do when the two get married and have a biopic?

I think approaching a biopic with a level of objectivity, knowing your predilections and biases is a good starting point. Knowing you want your characters relate requires an attempt to humanize rather than demonize. Even a good antagonist has likable qualities. In fact, the likable bad guys are the best one. But a biopic should not even be about good guys and bad guys. And that is where films like this so often go off track.

Did you see the film Elvis and Nixon? I thought that film was done well. As hated as Nixon is by the left, that film was humorous and engaging.

I have not, alas. I don't watch too many movies and I go to the theatres even less often. I'll check it out, though, see if it's streaming.

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