Unitary executive theory.
Remember that. It’s one of the key takeaways from “Vice,” an offbeat look at Dick Cheney, a man many saw as an almost invisible figure in the George W. Bush administration.
In Adam McKay’s new film, however, Cheney is much more than that – a manipulator who put into play plenty of things like unitary executive authority, which means the president can do just about anything he wants.
McKay connects the dots between Cheney, Halliburton, Donald Rumsfeld and plenty of others during Bush’s tenure as president.
Because Cheney never fostered much of a public image, McKay takes an irreverent approach to telling the story. A narrator (Jesse Plemons) details the rocky road into politics and the clever off-ramp into Republicans’ inner circle.
A quick study, Cheney (Christian Bale) benefits from his ambitious wife Lynne’s ultimatums. In Amy Adams’ hands, she’s a shrewd operator, able to make her own way even though she’s convinced there isn’t an open door for her in politics. She pushes and prods, getting moments that could finally win Adams that well-deserved Oscar.
Bale is award-worthy, too, particularly when he pulls back and lets others think his idea is theirs. He’s particularly cunning with Sam Rockwell (as Bush), trying to find a running mate who can complete the ticket. Becoming a one-man search committee, he doesn’t push forth other names but waits for Bush to conclude he’s the only man for the job.
Lynne, meanwhile, thinks the job is worthless and encourages him to reconsider – until she realizes the changes he has in mind.
Under Bush, Cheney had incredible power, shuttling among three offices in order to keep everyone in check. According to McKay, he also seized authority during 9/11 and made decisions others questioned.
“Vice” has so many blue-chip actors in supporting roles it’s fun to see how they figure into the picture the director paints. Steve Carell plays Rumsfeld as a good ol’ boy with sexist tendencies; Tyler Perry is a noble Colin Powell, unwittingly helping Cheney achieve his goals in the Mideast.
When staffers give him random intel about everything, Cheney uses it to bolster his opinions. So what if they aren’t valid. They stir the pot and keep the public confused.
McKay talks about taxes on the rich, the fairness doctrine, and global warning. He shows how a slight shift on each got buy-in and helped something like the Fox network gain power, particularly among those willing to believe what kind of propaganda they were peddling.
“Vice” doesn’t hesitate to connect the dots. It goes too far in some instances, but it does suggest those who are entrenched in Washington don’t exactly have the folks back home in mind when they make decisions.
McKay uses some of the techniques he pioneered with “The Big Short” in this venture and they work – to a point. When he suggests an early end to the Cheney story, they seem too clever for their own good.
But the film never goes wrong when Bale is in charge. He’s so perfect as Cheney you’ll wonder why the whole thing (not just one segment) wasn’t written like a Shakespearean tragedy.