Tuesday, 12 February 2019

Film: 'Vice'

Busy, smart, densely-packed film of Dick Cheney's political career, up to and including his being Vice-President to 'Dubya' Bush - and very disturbing it is too, more than I thought it would be. 

Christian Bale, spectacularly transformed (as impressively as Gary Oldman recently 'became' Winston Churchill) claimed that his inspiration in playing Cheney came from Satan and if so it's evident in every frame. There's hardly any redeeming feature shown about the man. 
Although Cheney is, rightly, the focus of the film, it deals in some depth with Republican Party politics and shenanigans. No one could seriously claim that the film is 'impartial', or that it strives to be so. Liberal - or, perhaps better expressed, anti-Republican - sentiments are to the fore all the way through, something with which I myself find quite comfortable. Others may not. I should have thought that anyone from or sympathetic to the 'other side' having to sit through this would have their blood pressures go through the roof. Too bad! 
The film starts with a brief episode from Cheney's wild, hard-drinking, student days when he's hauled in by the police. Just one of several similar incidents, we gather. He meets and marries his lifelong wife Lynne (Amy Adams - just as impressive) who, when he doesn't reform his own behaviour, gives him an ultimatum which is crucial in turning his life around. 
His tentative entrance into politics in the 1980s under the wing of Donald Rumsfeld (Steve Carrell turning in yet another outstanding performance) quickly smacks of ambition as he starts climbing the ladder, and he's not averse to using ruthlessness to get his way.
There's a gliding through the mainly Republican presidencies of Ford, ( + Carter), Reagan and Bush Senior. After jumping over any mention of Clinton, it comes to the election of the younger Bush who calls Cheney (suffering increasingly with heart trouble which had already caused concern) out of retirement to serve under him. 
Then the Twin Towers in 2001, and, as Vice-President, it's Cheney rather than Bush (Sam Rockwell, perhaps a shade less convincingly played than the other lead characters, though it's not intended to be a totally accurate impersonation) who starts calling the shots, and that's the way it stays for the rest of the the Bush Jnr double-term. 

Cheney's family life is given a high profile with his devoted, reactionary wife, always there to give her hubby a hand and even stand in for him at rallies when his heart plays up again. He's also close to his two grown-up daughters and, if there's anything to be said in his favour at all it's his reaction (though only after some silent reflection) on assuring his Lesbian daughter that he loves her no matter what after she comes out to her parents - in sharp contrast to her mother's shocked, stony, wordless glare. But does he maintain his supportive stance? When his other daughter enters politics she's questioned and initially prevaricates about her own attitude to the then vexed topic of gay marriage, eventually putting her own ambitions above support for her now gay-wedded sister.

Throughout the film there are split-second shots of hideous atrocities perpetrated from both sides, mainly following the invasion of Iraq in the (as we all know) erroneous belief of Saddam Hussein's possession of WMDs. Many of the brief excerpts we have seen in newsreels, or at least heard about them - suicide bombings, mistreatment and torture of prisoners, waterboarding, Guantanamo Bay - but they are still hard to watch. Cheney is an enthusiastic advocate of any means being employed against the enemy (as perceived) despite the identification of such individuals being problematic, to say the least.
He also pushes the Nixonian notion that the President, by virtue of who he is, is immune to criminal prosecution no matter what he does - and not only that but, crucially, the Vice-President too. 

Now I have to mention a certain section of this film that made me more uncomfortable than any other film I've seen since 1979's 'All That Jazz' when the Roy Scheider character (playing a putative Bob Fosse) undergoes open-heart surgery, I think, which is shown in extended fashion in all its exquisitely grisly detail. While this film doesn't quite go to the same graphically gory distance (here it's a heart transplant) its depiction - clearly an actual operation is being shown - made me so queasy that if I hadn't averted my eyes I would without doubt have fainted clean away. But then I'm one who can't even look when given my annual flu-jab - and as for when a blood sample is taken for a periodic routine check, well I feel the need to lie down before I pass out, and to be offered tea and biscuits, being the soppy 'snowflake' that I am. So, if you're one like me I only give fair warning. If you're able to watch such things without flinching, how I envy you! (The said surgical passage occurs around 10 minutes before the film's close, or getting on for two hours after the start). 

Incidentally, just under an hour into the film there's a rather clever false ending when the film's credits come up, listing the actual actors. If it had been much later then no doubt some would have left the cinema, but being so early on we quickly cotton on to what's happening - and I'm sure you'll 'get it'.

I thought in many respects this film was an eye-opener which surprised me in revealing how much I hadn't yet known. I'm only familiar with Cheney through the newsreel shots of him giving speeches or interviews (both rare enough) or shuffling silently a few feet from the President like some hovering, malevolent spirit. Many Americans will be more familiar with his impact on political lives, as well as their own, than I am. 

Director and writer of this, Adam McKay ('The Big Short' 'Anchorman' films), clearly revels in expounding his opinion of the subject, and I think he's done a service to many of us who needed to know more. He uses both flair and imagination, and there's no chance of anyone getting bored - you'll be too many times shocked and/or outraged for that to happen. This might have ended up as a parochially-based American-leftish polemic, but it's much more intelligent than being just that, with a universal perspective towards politicians in all countries.

It was an informative film, though must confess too that I found it somewhat exhausting. I'd like to see it again because it's so full of facts and opinions that I'm curious as to finding out what I missed first time. However, I'd only watch it again if I had the means to skip over the many unsavoury images - or was prepared to keep leaving the room.
Given my personal reservations, it's a goldmine for those who are politically-minded - though, importantly, unless willing to take offence on the chin, it's especially not comfortable viewing for those of conservative leanings....................6.5.

(IMDb...........7.1 / Rott.Toms..............6.7 )


  1. there is NOTHING about dark lord cheney that is likeable. cheney and W should be in jail for war crimes! cheney's bullshit is still being manifested in today's washington. bring back the guillotine!

    1. Not surprised at your opinion, W.Q., but have to take issue with you regarding the use of the guillotine. As an ardent opponent of the death penalty in ALL circumstances I was wondering if something could be devised to linger out his remaining years (surely not too long to go anyway) in such utter agony that he's begging for death as relief, which would be refused, naturally. No, Madame Guillotine would be too quick - though I appreciate where you're coming from. :-)

    2. oooooooooooooooh, I like your idea even better! :)

  2. I do want to see this one mainly because of Bale, but am glad you mentioned the surgical scenes so I can be at the ready to cover my eyes!

    1. Bale is a marvel of transformation, Bob - and you soon forget who's under the prosthetics. It has to be seen to be believed, yet even then when you know.....
      The operation section towards the end will have anyone sensitive to such matters squirming like mad. I defy you to keep looking at the screen with your eyes open. For me it would be ultimate torture - just like Malcolm McDowell had to endure in 'Clockwork Orange', though much worse.

  3. Sooner I'd eat rats at Tewkesbury than sit through a movie to recreate Mr. Cheny

    1. Does it make any difference to you that this film does Cheney no favours, I wonder?