Academy Favorite 'Vice' Distorts History of Iraq War
I received my Academy screener of "Vice" -- Adam McKay's intermittently black comic biopic of Dick Cheney --- just a few days before its Christmas opening and watched it almost immediately, even though I knew I would hate it.
I did. It had exactly the retrograde, conformist Hollywood politics I expected. What I didn't expect was that it would be an aesthetic jumble and quite boring.
Nevertheless, "Vice" led the pack of Golden Globe nominations with six and is an early favorite for the Best Picture Oscar. So unfortunately, due to the biased state of our educational system, this could well make the movie the definitive statement on the Iraq War for a whole generation of ignorant young Americans. Otherwise, it wouldn't be worth commenting about.
Briefly, regarding the aesthetics, the major performances are all over the place, ranging from caricature to meticulous imitation. On the caricature side we have Steve Carell as Donald Rumsfeld and Sam Rockwell as George W. Bush, acting as if they were auditioning for Saturday Night Live circa 2005. On the meticulous side is Christian Bale's Cheney. The actor mimics the former vice president extraordinarily well physically and vocally, in all ways but intellectually. You never get the sense of why Cheney does anything, except on the most superficial, self-serving level. Similarly, you never get an inkling from Amy Adams' Lynne Cheney that the woman could have written her superb biography of James Madison that was published recently.
Of course, these are the writer-director's choices, just as are the serio-comic interjections that come up periodically to interrupt the scenes, images of beating hearts, etc., as if he doesn't trust his own narrative. (They worked better in his earlier "The Big Short.") They didn't make me laugh or think, nor did the tedious narration designed to guide the audience.
As I mentioned, however, those are just the signs of another mediocre movie. You may differ on that and who cares?
The real problem is that the history of the Iraq War is cherry-picked and rewritten in the most predictable manner. It contains the usual shallow blather about WMDs. The canard of "blood for oil" is also brought up. But the main idea is that Dick Cheney and his cabal--Paul Wolfowitz and Scooter Libby flit by, although most viewers wouldn't have a clue who they really were after seeing this movie--caused the war in Iraq.
This is, in a word, nonsense.
Roll back to the world of early 2003 -- hard to believe it's going on sixteen years. America was still reeling from September 11, the most shocking attack in our history, even more than Pearl Harbor because it was aimed directly at our economic and cultural heart. The damages were huge. Action was taken immediately against Afghanistan to deny al-Qaeda a safe haven so that this could never happen again.