Film Critic: Vice

Vice is the latest effort by Adam McKay, who also created The Big Short, about the 2008 financial crisis. I think The Big Short was the better movie. Both films reveal the complex antecedents of a major national crisis: the rampant financial speculation that lead to the crash, and in Vice, the deliberate effort by a power-hungry and ruthless conservative Republican to redefine the presidency — and the vice-presidency — as essentially beyond the law and beyond accountability. “If the president does it, it can’t be illegal.” 

That goes right along with “The United States doesn’t torture. So if the President orders waterboarding, then waterboarding isn’t torture.” In his efforts to recast the power at the senior levels of government in this way Cheney had the support of David Addington, John Yoo, and Anton Scalia.

The casting and acting in Vice is quite good — but that doesn’t really save the film, which grew tiresome for me. Maybe I think Dick Cheney and his ilk are tiresome. There are some interesting family moments, as when Cheney — more than his equally Machiavellian wife — initially supports their gay daughter Mary, but then throws her and her partner and children under the bus in 2013 when daughter Liz needed to come out against gay marriage to win a House seat in Wyoming. Apparently that is a real family breach that endures to this day.

Trump is taking anything that happened during the Cheney years much, much farther outside the boundaries of decency and common norms. If the film does anything, it makes the viewer more acutely aware that what makes democracy work is a sense of shared values, of shared comity, of “we the people”. Cheney didn’t believe in any of that, and neither does Trump.

I hope, once Trump passes from the scene, that neither Adam McKay nor anyone else decides to make a film about him. Living through Trump, and Cheney, in real time is quite enough.

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