How Do You Solve a Problem Like Dick Cheney?

At the end of my fifth grade year, my family moved to a drop-in-the-bucket town in west Florida situated just an hour between Fort Myers Beach and Okeechobee. A place in the sort of land of the forgotten whose insect and snake population could carry off every human in the county. The kind of place whose people have so few distinguishing characteristics that as years go by, they amalgamate into one bleach-blonde, leather-hued chain smoker you’d almost wish you had never met in the first place.

It’s no surprise, then, that I remember almost nothing about the months we spent there. Tiny, ten-year-old Tony never could have known that the tanned faces behind the counter at Winn-Dixie would be responsible for the rise of the Bush-Cheney administration. Sixteen months after we departed from our home in Florida, the Republicans took the state by only 537 votes, effectively awarding their 25 electoral votes to the GOP and the presidency to Bush 2.0. Curiosity all these years later has gotten the best of me, and I’ve learned through research (and Wikipedia) that the county that was my family’s host elected Bush and Cheney with well over half the vote. 1,507 of the 8,139 votes cast there pushed the GOP’s margin of victory 18% higher than the Gore-led Democrats. I can’t help but think that I probably met someone whose vote then contributed to the radically-altered America that I now call home. If I could go back for just one moment and encounter one of the leather-skinned wonders one last time, I’d probably karate chop them right in the neck if given the chance. I’m not even a little bit sorry about it.

Truth be told, the above anecdote doesn’t have a darn thing to do with the bulk of this post except that Dick Cheney is mentioned both above and in what follows. In these first few weeks of blogging my life (and perhaps even further along), I’ll share these anecdotes so that you and I can get to know each other a little better. I’m really hoping that you’ll do the same.

Western Kentucky in the winter doesn’t always provide the best weekend activities. The outdoor festivals that draw crowds downtown in Paducah are long gone, and it’s typically too cold to do much outside this time of year, so one of my favorite ways to find contentment is to throw on my comfiest sweatshirt and a ball cap and escape into the cushioned seats of the local Cinemark. It’s just what I did this past weekend.

Saturday, I joined my best friend for a nighttime viewing of Adam McKay’s Dick Cheney biopic Vice, and my only real take-away is that I really enjoyed my Cherry Coke and AirHeads Bites. This isn’t to say that the movie is bad, but in my convoluted view of the world, my membership to the Cinemark Movie Club makes my opinion akin to that of a member of the Screen Actor’s Guild, so I’m going to give it to you whether you want it or not. Today, friends, I’m a movie expert.

The movie’s greatest redeeming quality lies in the talent of its acting ensemble. I can generally take or leave Christian Bale’s performances, but something must be said of his commitment to his craft for this project. He must’ve gained at least fifty pounds to portray Cheney and there were moments I completely forgot who was acting in the role, which is probably why he won a Golden Globe for his performance. I was equally impressed by the supporting cast members and their nuanced portrayals of the folks who surrounded Cheney during his political career. Amy Adams, Steve Carell, and Sam Rockwell (Lynne Cheney, Donald Rumsfeld, and George W. Bush, respectively) provide Bale with the kind of support he needs to push the plot forward.

Unfortunately, the plot is one of the many things wrong with the movie. At least the first 35 minutes chronicles Cheney’s foundational years in politics, but that’s not what drew me to the story. I wasn’t there to learn that he was an incompetent drunk when he and Lynne first got together. I don’t care that he heard a mildly sexist speech from Rumsfeld when he arrived as an intern in D.C. I give no craps about his daughters trying to sneak into Nixon’s Oval Office. I was there to see the juice: how Cheney took advantage of an idiot and ran our country into the ground under a president so incompetent he chewed a pretzel so poorly that he choked on it.

So many other strange artistic choices disturbed the plot, too (an impromptu recitation of Shakespearean dialogue by Bale and Adams while they lie in bed together…a sort of “gotcha” fake role of credits midway through the movie…and so much more). It just seemed to me like McKay got so caught up in making himself look more creative in the unique way he framed the story that he lost the actual story…or at least the interesting part of it. I’ll fully admit that once Cheney had taken on the role of Vice, the film got much more interesting. It just took so damn long to get there.

I read on IMDb that McKay had the film’s cast perform a musical number that was cut to maintain a more serious tone, which strangely made me think of one of my favorite musical films with political undertones. Yes, you guessed it: The Sound of Music. (Nazi invasion, anyone?). The Nuns sing cheerfully, “How do you solve a problem like Maria?” It’s wonderful. It’s beautiful. It’s nothing like what I imagine a musical number starring Dick Cheney would be.

After this film, I woefully ponder…How do you solve a problem like Dick Cheney? Well, not like this. And what a shame, with a movie that had so much potential. Cut out about 30 minutes of its unnecessary plot and take away the nonsense artistic choices and this could have been a classic for me…but then, I guess it wouldn’t be an Adam McKay movie, now would it?

Watch the trailer below, then see the movie before it’s out of theaters. I’d love to hear what you think. I could be totally off base. The movie did, in fact, get six Golden Globe nominations. Obviously they know more than I do…

Leave me a comment and let’s talk!

Vice premiered in limited theaters in America on Dec. 25, 2018 with a wide release on Dec. 30. As of Jan. 3, 2019, it has grossed just under $24 million.

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