Remember Dick Cheney? You won't forget him after Christian Bale's villainous performance on the Oscar-nominated biopic "Vice."
Vice goes out of its way to make nods at Dick Cheney’s career, which spanned from the 1960s to the end of the George W. Bush administration, affecting today’s political climate. A young Donald Trump appears for a second, surrounded by dollar bills; a younger Mike Pence and Hillary Clinton spread fear on the House floor by championing for an intervention in Iraq in the name of Americans’ safety; and a fragment of Ronald Reagan's speech ends in “make America great again.”
All of these blasts from the past are treated with tremendous irony for the sake of humor, if you could believe, and help portray Cheney as an unscrupulous, spineless, calculating anti-hero who often delves into Shakespearean territory. Dick (Christian Bale) and his wife Lynne’s (Amy Adams) relationship, for example, mirrors the Macbeths in that she’s a major engine for her husband’s political ambitions, even standing for him at rallies as he recovers from a heart attack.
At one point, when she was Chief of Staff in the 1970s, Lynne goes as far as whispering to her husband, “Half of this room wants to be us, the other half is afraid of us.” And in the films’ final moments, Cheney breaks the fourth wall and speaks directly at us, Richard III-style.
But what starts off as subtle references quickly becomes a full-on parody of the Scottish play’s heroes. Later in the film directed by Adam McKay, they discuss accepting the role of Vice President, offered by W. himself, and they do it in iambic pentameter. Then, Cheney accepts, and that’s when it stops being funny.
Having shown interest in an interpretation of the Constitution that would give the President absolute authority, Cheney welcomes the Vice Presidency with the purpose of becoming George W. Bush’s puppet master. The film’s narrative is a bit messy, but thrilling nonetheless. We see Cheney approve of torture, making his domestic rivals irrelevant, controlling the Bush administration by filling it with allies, and then firing them when they are no longer needed. There’s only one line Cheney won’t cross and won’t allow anyone to cross: his daughter Mary is a lesbian, and if anybody has a problem with that, they can suck it.
What follows are events we know all too well: 9/11, the invasion of Afghanistan, Iraq, the worst economic crisis since the Great Depression, ISIS, Obama, and Trump.
There certainly are instances where you could even admire the protagonist, much like we enjoy Shakespeare’s villains. But even they have some humanity them. In fact, one could even argue that Macbeth is the victim of his story, immersed in a violent social order. Cheney, on the other hand, is the violent order.
Dick reaches his lowest point not when he is strongest, but when he is weakest. In 2012, with his public figure naturally reduced during Obama’s administration, his daughter Liz is campaigning for Wyoming’s senate seat, and her rival is making phone calls to voters accusing her of being in favor of gay marriage. Unsurprisingly at this point, both Dick and Lynne know exactly what to do and have absolutely no problem with it. They green-light Liz’s live interview, in which she explicitly claims to be against gay marriage and that she believes marriage to be solely between a man and a woman, thus betraying Mary.
In a fit of rage, an inconsolably distraught Liz calls her parents, but they refuse to discuss it, matter-of-factly choosing Liz’s political career, and therefore Dick’s own legacy, over their own flesh and blood.
Every Shakespeare villain has a final moment of awakening; in some cases, you could even call it repentance. Cheney, on the other hand, looks straight at the camera and says “I’m not going to apologize for keeping America safe. It has been an honor to serve you.”
Vice has been nominated in 7 categories of the 91 st Academy Awards, including Best Picture, Actor in Leading Role (Christian Bale as Dick Cheney), Actor in Supporting Role (Sam Rockwell as George Bush), Actress in Supporting Role (Amy Adams as Lynne, Cheney's wife), Directing (Adam McKay), Film editing, Makeup and hairstyling, and Writing (original screenplay).
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