America’s greatest living vice president, Dick Cheney, celebrated his 78th birthday on Jan. 30, roughly one week after “Vice,” the new biopic about his life and career, scored eight Oscar nominations, including for best picture, actor, and director.
I doubt that Cheney has seen it, but I’m sure he would appreciate the deep, inherent irony of both the film and its award-winning reception.
“Vice” follows Cheney’s rise from drunken lout to America’s "Dark Knight." A self-made family man who turns his life around after his wife gives him one last chance to get it together, he becomes a successful businessman and an effective public servant committed to doing what it takes to keep the country safe in a time of crisis.
Director Adam McKay may have set out to make a monster movie, but he ended up with a superhero origin story. That Cheney is played by Batman himself, Christian Bale, only emphasizes the heroic parallels. Coincidentally, Bale, who thanked Satan for “inspiration” in playing Cheney during his acceptance speech at the Golden Globes, also shares the former vice president’s Jan. 30 birthday.
“Vice” is a movie that hates its subject, and wants you to hate him too, but what’s actually shown on screen doesn’t quite match up with the sinister tone — imagine someone angrily shouting compliments at you. The resulting film is uneven and disjointed, something that has particularly rankled liberal audiences and critics who prefer their anti-Republican agitprop without so much humanizing nuance.
Nowhere is this asymmetry between intention and final product more jarring than in the movie’s final scene, a fourth-wall-breaking, direct-to-camera monologue delivered in a low-growl by a coiled Cheney. It’s presented as if it were a super villain’s maniacal manifesto; but the words themselves bluntly enunciate a clear motivation that is nothing short of inspiring:
The world is as you find it … And there are monsters in this world. We saw 3,000 innocent people burned to death, by those monsters. And yet, you object, when I refuse to kiss those monsters on the cheek and say, ‘pretty please.’ You answer me this, What terrorist attack would you let go forward so you wouldn’t seem like a mean and nasty fella? I will not apologize for keeping your families safe. And I will not apologize for doing what needed to be done, so your loved ones can sleep peacefully at night.
It’s a beautiful moment of poetic irony. McKay spends 130 minutes tendentiously editorializing, only to let Cheney have the last word. “Vice” may be a bad movie, but for that speech alone it should win all the Oscars (just think of the takes).
Happy birthday to Cheney, a silent guardian, a watchful protector, the hero we needed.