Whaleoil at the movies: Vice

Too Right
A regular column by John Black

Politics, they say, is just show business for ugly people. In this satire cum biopic liberal Hollywood attempts a character assassination of one they believe to be the ugliest (in the moral sense) of them all: former vice-president Dick Cheney. Trouble is writer-director Adam McKay is a rather ham-fisted hitman hitting his polemical and satirical targets with as much accuracy as a delirium tremens stricken Lee Harvey Oswald.

The centrepiece of the film and the only reason you should give it two hours of your summer holiday is the performance of Christian Bale as Cheney. All the prosthetics and make up can?t disguise the masterful acting ? he?s got the thirty-Rothmans-a-day voice and the lop-sided grin down pat but somehow avoids making it a caricature, giving Cheney some real humanity not always there in the script. The other players ? Sam Rockwell as George W and Steve Carell as Donald Rumsfeld ? come much closer to dinner party imitations. Amy Adams plays Cheney?s loyal but tough wife Lynne, depicted as a lady Macbethish figure. She does what she can with feminist talking points compressed into dialogue and almost makes them sound like something a woman might say.


This is the movie?s main problem. Partisan political agitation thinly disguised as comedy-drama makes for shitty entertainment.

There?s certainly a case to be made that Cheney was too cosy with corporate interests, too liberal in his interpretation of the powers of the constitutional cul-de-sac that is the office of vice-president and that the invasion of Iraq was a fantastically arrogant example of imperial overreach. Hey, I?d make that case myself. But rather than using wit and drama to hone in on these failings, McKay uses visual bombast and conspiratorial longueurs to accuse Big Dick of all manner of evil. The creation of ISIS? Dick did it. He big upped their leader Al-Zarqawi. Torture? Dick did it. He encouraged Rumsfeld?s ?enhanced interrogation? techniques. Global warming. Dick again. He cut regulations and somehow got the term replaced with the euphemism ?climate change?. I know what McKay?s bedroom looks like. Wall papered with the NY times and red woollen threads connecting everything.

By the end of the movie, I thought he?d accuse Cheney of personally throttling Madeleine McCann while inventing AIDS.

His stock technique pilfered from Michael Moore is the visual pile on. So pictures of oil drilling quick cuts to immigrants arriving by boats that then quick cuts to a smiling Donald Trump surrounded by cash. No logical connection at all, of course, but who needs that? It?s a movie, stupid!

 Or maybe just a stupid movie.

Hilariously McKay also claims the creation of FOX news was a plot by Cheney and the evil republicans to propagandise America along with the Heritage Foundation and other right wing think tanks.

The film is financed to the tune of 80 million by Megan Ellison, daughter of software billionaire Larry Ellison. Other productions Megan has squandered Daddy?s money on have included Detroit a movie attacking police racism and Joy celebrating female empowerment. Who?s a propagandist again?

In the last minutes of the film McKay allows Cheney a brief self-defence. Bale turns to the camera and says he did what he did to keep Americans safe.

The moment is brief and soon undercut by another senseless montage, but I found it one of the few affecting scenes. You felt that this would be what the real Cheney might say. And he?d be right. After the shock of 9/11 Americans felt incredibly vulnerable. Since then exempting radicalized lone wolfs like the pulse nightclub shooter there has not been a single terrorist attack by foreign agents on American soil. The measures Dick Cheney took, right or wrong, helped achieved this security.

That?s his ?ugly? legacy.

Smug show business types like McKay, free from making decisions of any importance, ridicule their leaders with shallow entertainments.

That?s theirs.