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Film / Vice (2018)

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Vice is a 2018 Biopic about the 46th Vice President of the United States, Dick Cheney. Written and directed by Adam McKay, the film stars Christian Bale, Amy Adams, Steve Carell and Sam Rockwell, with narration by Jesse Plemons.

The film tracks Cheney's ascent from drunken college dropout to vice president of George W. Bush's administration, portraying the man as a quiet, calculating puppetmaster who artfully authored America's post-9/11 response behind the scenes with barely any popular support or approval. The film also examines his family life, including his relationships with his strong-willed wife Lynne and gay daughter Mary.



  • Affably Evil:
    • While it is debatable whether or not Cheney is evil, he is definitely ruthless and does many morally dubious things throughout the film. Nevertheless, he maintains a polite and accommodating personality most of the time.
    • Donald Rumsfeld is this as well. Despite coming off as rude and brash at times, Rummy is actually a very avuncular if cynical mentor who is more than happy to befriend his subordinates and gives a casual and welcoming speech to the new Washington interns. He is nevertheless the most amoral character in the film and only cares about accumulating more power.
  • The Alcoholic: Both Cheney and Bush Jr. have had drinking problems. Cheney notes that he can still enjoy a cold beer on occasion, while Bush admits that he can't touch the stuff anymore.
  • Ambiguously Evil: It's never clear if Dick Cheney's motives are well intentioned or just pure greed and a lust for power. Either way, the film portrays his actions as destructive.
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  • Ambition Is Evil: Donald Rumsfield, Dick Cheney and Lynne Cheney seem to be entirely driven by naked ambition and will to acquire power, and this leads them to some very dark actions.
  • Artistic License – History: The film acknowledges in the beginning and several other times that it has little to go on for information on certain areas of Cheney's life, due to his secrecy, but that, "We tried our fucking best."
    • To lampshade the trope, Dick and Lynne lapse into faux-Shakespearean iambic pentameter after the narrator admits that they have no idea what the couple said to each other before Dick accepted the vice-presidential candidacy.
    • The film implies that Cheney played a significant role in the veto of Congress's attempt to re-instate the Fairness Doctrine, a law from 1949 that forced broadcast radio and TV outlets to present both sides of an issue equally, and it eventually led to the rise of opinion news networks like Fox News. In reality, there's no record of Cheney convincing the House to abstain from interfering with the veto, especially given that Cheney wasn't the GOP Whip until 1989. Additionally, the Fairness Doctrine only applied to broadcast television stations and had no authority over cable stations, so Fox News wouldn't have to abide by the doctrine even if it were still a law today.
    • In real life, Cheney and Bush never wore American flag lapels on their suits until after the 9/11 attacks.
    • The film depicts Cheney as being responsible for Valerie Plame Wilson's name being leaked to the press even though Richard Armitage was the one responsible.
  • As You Know: A couple of in-house acronyms, such as COGnote , are explained for the benefit of the audience.
  • Behind Every Great Man: Lynne is shown to be a major guiding force in Dick's life, getting him into Yale, bluntly getting him sober, getting him elected to congress, and calculating the ramifications of Mary coming out of the closet (while Dick's primary concern is reassuring Mary that he loves her).
  • Benevolent Boss: Despite his rather brash demeanor and amoral character Donald Rumsfeld is this to Cheney. He's initially depicted as a jerkass who prefers that his employees stay quiet, do as they're told, and show him loyalty. When Cheney asks Rumsfeld what his principles are, Rumsfeld howls with laughter and slams a door in his face. However, he also clearly appreciates Cheney's talents, teaches him how to navigate Washington, and takes the time to get to know Lynne.
  • Beware the Quiet Ones: The central theme, as introduced by the epigraph stating that while others talk and act, quiet men plot and bide their time before striking when it is most opportune. Dick Cheney himself is presented as the quintessential example of this type of man.
  • Biopic: Of Dick Cheney.
  • Blatant Lies: During the Credits Gag, it says (via the 1990s) that not only does the Cheney family never again enter politics but also that Dick's heart itself is so healthy that he regularly runs Ironman competitions.
  • Breaking the Fourth Wall:
    • The narrator appears on-screen occasionally and addresses the audience.
    • In the end, Cheney turns to the camera and addresses the audience, defending his actions as vice president.
  • Cannot Tell a Joke: During a family lunch, Cheney tries to tell his granddaughter a dad joke, but stumbles through the delivery in a way that sucks all the humor out of the punchline.
  • The Chessmaster: Cheney's primary characterization, manipulating the players in Washington to control the government.
  • Chessmaster Sidekick: Done deliberately by Cheney. In his own words, the vice presidency is a "nothing job," but through careful planning and manipulation of events, he effectively controls two branches of government and has no oversight.
  • Chronic Backstabbing Disorder: Dick Cheney throws absolutely everybody under the bus with nary a worry or care, if he needs to. The most emblematic examples being Donald Rumsfeld, and towards the end, his own daughter.
  • Cold-Blooded Torture: The film puts focus on Cheney's involvement in the use of legal loopholes allowing America to torture terror suspects.
  • Credits Gag: The film pretends to end midway through, running credits and stating that Dick Cheney never put his political ambitions ahead of his family. The film keeps going, however, and that's exactly what Cheney does.
  • Decadent Court: The Oval Office is portrayed as a nest of ambition, conspiracies and betrayal.
  • Determinator: Cheney is getting all the power he craves, and he won't let petty things like the democracy, the political establishment or several heart attacks stop him.
  • A Dick in Name: Pretty much.
  • The Ditz: The film portrays George W. Bush as a dim-witted and easily manipulated nonentity.
  • Double-Meaning Title: A play on Cheney having been both Vice President, and his tenure being quite vice-ridden.
  • Downer Ending: In a sense. In the end, Dick Cheney walks away politically unscathed from all the carnage he's caused, and gets a brand new heart to keep him going for many years to come. Even if you were somehow rooting for him, the film also ends with the Cheney family collapsing at the seams as the Cheneys sell out their lesbian daughter in exchange for political power, something that seems to leave Dick wracked with guilt.
  • Dragon-in-Chief: The film establishes that while Bush may have been the president, Cheney's the one calling all the shots and handling the meetings.
  • The Dreaded: Everybody's terrified of the Cheneys in Washington.
  • Drunk with Power: The film depicts Cheney as being abusive with his power to the point where ordering bombings comes just as natural as breathing to him. A prime example is when he calmly orders a terrorism suspect to be kidnapped and tortured by the CIA without hard evidence while casually eating a donut. We never find out if the suspect was guilty or not but Cheney's callous attitude towards human life is highlighted.
  • Establishing Character Moment: Most of the characters have one.
    • Cheney is introduced in the wake of 9/11: he is the only one not panicking.
    • Lynn is introduced having an argument with her husband after he's been arrested again for drunk driving. She threatens to leave him if he doesn't become more ambitious.
    • The Congressional interns are subjected to a boring speech to welcome them to DC. After the speaker sits down, Donald Rumsfeld steps up, and gives a speech that is both bitingly accurate and riveting.
  • Even Evil Has Loved Ones: Cheney is absolutely ruthless and sociopathic when it comes to literally everything else, but he's highly devoted to his wife and children. Though this is subverted when he compromises on the gay marriage issue, directly harming his (lesbian) daughter.
  • Even Evil Has Standards: Cheney feels nothing but disgust for Wayne, Lynne's drunken, abusive father. After Edna's death, he tells Wayne never to go near his wife or daughters again.
  • The Everyman: Kurt the narrator is a normal, relatable guy who audiences can easily identify with, and is completely uninvolved in the political scheming and corruption going on. This makes his sudden death all the more tragic.
  • Evil Mentor: Rumsfeld to Cheney. It's implied in one of their conversations that Cheney has ideals of his own and appears to be optimistic about making changes to the government. So when he looks to Rumsfeld for guidance about the path he chooses and asks him what they should believe in, Rummy laughs in his face, basically telling him that values are worthless and all that matters is the pursuit of power.
  • Family Values Villain: Cheney married his high school sweetheart and spends ample time with his wife and daughters when not working. Many of his actions are efforts to prove himself worthy to his wife and take good care of his family. On several occasions, he refuses to take actions that could cause emotional distress to his lesbian daughter, Mary. He decides against running for president because of the negative attention that would fall on her, and later makes it clear to George W. Bush that he will not take part in his anti-LGBTQ efforts. The film portrays this as noble, with a false ending stating that Cheney never chose politics over his daughter. Then, in the end, it's subverted when Cheney gives his blessing to Liz to speak against gay marriage to further her political career, much to the distress of Mary.
  • Foil: George W. Bush, to Cheney. Both start out as shiftless drinkers, and both get into politics to impress a loved one (Bush's father and Cheney's fiancée, respectively). (That similarity might explain why Cheney is able to manipulate Bush so easily.) However, Cheney is far more capable than Bush, and the rest is history.
  • Foreshadowing:
    • Dick tables a possible presidential bid because he fears that his political opponents will attack him through Mary. Liz faces the same problem when she runs for Senate and throws Mary under the bus to further her own ambitions.
    • A young Liz Cheney is seen watching The Rifleman, a gag that does pay off in that infamous incident where Dick accidentally shot someone in a hunt.
  • For Want of a Nail: When Cheney arrives in Washington D.C. as a young intern, he doesn't have any strong political opinions whatsoever and chooses to become a staffer for the Republican Party on a whim.
  • The Friend Nobody Likes: Rumsfeld is a canny political force, making him useful to the Nixon Administration. However, his abrasive personality eventually annoys enough people that he's pushed out of Republican politics and he seeks other opportunities in the private sector.
  • From Nobody to Nightmare: Cheney has relatively humble beginnings and no political pedigree to speak of, but he ends up becoming a nightmarish political force that effectively runs the US at his height.
  • Good Parents: One of Dick's biggest humanizing aspects is his good relationship with his two daughters; he is portrayed as unconditionally accepting of Mary being lesbian, tables a potential bid for the presidency out of fear for her emotional welfare, tells Bush Jr. in no uncertain terms that his refusal to campaign against gay marriage is a "line drawn in concrete", and is one of the few prominent Republicans to not support laws against gay rights. He does approve of Liz speaking out against gay marriage during her 2014 Senate bid, leading to the sisters' estrangement, but there is no indication that he did any such thing in real life.
  • Gone Horribly Right:
    • Rumsfeld teaches Cheney the value of ruthlessness and the importance of power, molding him into The Chessmaster who is not afraid to dirty his hands. This backfires on Rummy when Cheney later forces him out of the cabinet and makes him a scapegoat for the rise of ISIS.
    • Alternatively, Lynne's desire for Dick to "make something of himself" ends up morphing him into a ruthless and manipulative Knight Templar.
  • Hard Truth Aesop: The Stinger gives the notion that being part of the Lowest Common Denominator puts you in the same league as the people who take their politics way too seriously.
  • Historical Beauty Upgrade: While the 2000s Dick Cheney of the film looks almost eerily similar to the real Cheney of that time, the young Cheney looks like a slightly husky Christian Bale, when the real Cheney was pretty unexceptional and already showing significant hair loss.
  • Historical Domain Character: Almost the entire cast is composed of real people. The only major exception is the narrator Kurt, who turns out to be a fictional stand-in for the anonymous donor of Dick's replacement heart.
  • Historical Villain Upgrade: At the end of the movie, Dick is portrayed as approving of Liz taking a stand against gay marriage despite Mary being openly lesbian. There is no evidence that he did any such thing in real life.
  • I Did What I Had to Do: At the end, Dick breaks the fourth wall and claims that because of his actions as vice-president, you and your family can sleep safe at night.
  • Insert Cameo: Adam McKay suffered a heart attack during production, and had to put stents. Some footage of that is included during the recreations of Dick Cheney's heart surgeries.
  • Ironic Echo Cut: Lynne is shown giving a speech at campaign rally where she blasts "liberal elites" for being out of touch with most other Americans. The scene then cuts to the Cheneys and some other Republican politicians sitting in a fancy restaurant celebrating Dick's election victory, with the camera focusing on Lynne drinking wine.
  • Irony: Cheney took a basically powerless position and turned it into the real power in the government.
    Cheney: The Vice presidency is mostly a symbolic job. [as he turns the actual president into a figurehead]
  • Jerkass: Donald Rumsfeld. The film depicts him as brash, domineering, insulting and amoral.
  • Karma Houdini: Kurt sadly ponders after his death about how Dick Cheney got away with everything.
  • Killed Mid-Sentence: Kurt is struck by a car and killed instantly towards the end of the film. It is his heart that Cheney receives.
  • Knight Templar: The film's final monologue paints Cheney as this. Cheney declares that while he is indeed ruthless and that most of the public sees him as a corrupt warlord, all he is doing is protecting America.
  • Lady Macbeth: Lynne is instrumental in encouraging Dick to achieve greatness. She and Dick even start speaking faux Shakespeare together in one Imagine Spot.
  • The Man Behind the Man: Bush Jr. is mostly just a figurehead with Cheney and Rummy making all the big decisions.
    Cheney: I can handle some of the more mundane jobs, like overseeing bureaucracy, military, energy and foreign policy.
  • The Mentor: Donald Rumsfeld serves as this to Cheney in the 1970s. He shows Cheney how to navigate the Washington political scene and teaches him the value of ruthlessness.
  • Mood Whiplash: While more serious than The Big Short, there's still comedy, mostly through juxtaposition. For instance, a Cheney family dinner with Dick impersonating Simon Cowell is directly followed by the first strike on Iraq.
  • Motif:
    • Fishing. Cheney is often shown fishing in a stream, and the camera will frequently focus on fishing lures. These are intercut with scenes of Cheney luring others into doing what he wants. The credits end with a series of fishing lures designed to look like aspects of Cheney's life, such as bullets and American flags.
    • Games. One of the first scenes is Cheney drunkenly playing dice, which recurs a few times. When he assumes power as vice president, the various players in government are portrayed as pieces on a game board, with dice rolling among them.
  • Motive Rant: At the end, Dick turns to the audience and elaborates on why he did what he did and why he feels no remorse for his actions.
  • Never Trust a Trailer: The marketing made the film out to be a dark comedy similar to McKay’s previous film The Big Short. While the actual film has its comedic moments, it’s mostly a straight drama, definitely the most serious film of McKay’s career.
  • No Sympathy: In the beginning of the film, a coworker of Cheney's falls off of a telephone pole and graphically breaks his leg. Not only do his fellow coworkers laugh and joke at his expense, one even spits at him before walking away. Ironically, Cheney is the only one genuinely bothered by this.
  • Not So Stoic: Cheney breaks from his trademark stoicism in the final scene and passionately rants on how his actions were done for the greater good and is the reason why America is safe.
  • One-Word Title
  • Only Sane Man: Colin Powell is the only one in the administration who is skeptical of invading Iraq, seeing the evidence as not reliable and the potential consequences being disastrous.
  • Painting the Fourth Wall: The movie plays with a lot of filmmaking and storytelling conventions for comedic and dramatic purposes, such as blurring out the faces and bleeping the names of oil executives Cheney meets with to emphasize the secrecy of the meeting.
  • Papa Wolf: Suitably downplayed for such a quiet man. After Lynne's mother dies under suspicious circumstances, Cheney approaches her drunken and abusive father Wayne and tells him simply that he'll never allow Wayne near his wife or daughters again.
  • Pet the Dog: Cheney gets a couple of truly emotional moments with his family. The moment where Mary comes out to her parents as a lesbian is one of the few unquestionably good acts he does in the film, though it ultimately gets undermined over the course of the narrative.
  • Playing Gertrude: Christian Bale and Amy Adams are only 8 years older than Lily Rabe (Liz Chaney) and 11 than Alison Pill (Mary).
  • Posthumous Narration: Kurt is killed in a motor accident late in the story, and he is revealed to be the anonymous donor of Dick Cheney's new heart.
  • Power Corrupts: At the start of the story, Cheney is a decent man with a drinking problem and a lack of direction. By the end, he's an amoral puppetmaster who sacrifices his own daughter for political gain.
  • Present-Day Past: Rumsfeld makes a poker analogy in the 1970s about missing his flush draw when everyone thinks he's got pocket kings. This is a Texas Hold'em analogy, which didn't become mainstream until the 2000s. In the 1970s, stud poker was far more popular.
  • Protagonist Journey to Villain: To a lesser extent. Cheney is never a particularly good person (being a violent drunken lout at the beginning), but the film (and particularly the first third) focuses on how he evolved into a ruthless, manipulative war criminal.
  • Puppet King: George W. Bush is portrayed as a buffoon who only became president to make his father proud of him, and Dick holds the real power in their presidency.
  • Red Oni, Blue Oni: Cheney is the blue to Donald Rumsfeld's red. While Rummy is verbally aggressive and openly flaunts his power, Cheney is much more low key and prefers to work behind the scenes. Cheney even advises Rummy to employ a more "soft touch" on his first day as Vice President.
  • Screw the Rules, I Make Them!: The film says that the unitary executive theory argued by such legal experts as David Addington and John Yoo holds that the president can effectively do whatever he wants because he is the president.
  • Self-Made Man: The film never shows Cheney getting any help from family connections or wealth. He worked his way up from the bottom in government, after a fairly inauspicious youth.
  • Shout-Out: to Il Divo in the ending monologue. In the ending scene the protagonist, a morally questionable politician addresses the audience with a speech explaining and justifying the reason of his actions. It has been acknowledged by the director.
  • The Stinger: The credits pause to show a scene with the focus group where a right-wing member attacks the film for being left-wing "libtard" propaganda, a left-wing member defends the film and gets into a fight with the man, and an apathetic onlooker mentions going to see the next The Fast and the Furious movie.
  • Surpassed the Teacher: Rumsfeld takes care of Cheney in his early days as a Congressional intern and teaches him the ropes of politics. At the end, Cheney asks for Rumsfeld's resignation in the wake of the Iraq war. Rumsfeld is impressed at what Cheney has become.
  • Tautological Templar: Circular logic of "If The President/The United States does something evil/illegal, it's not evil/illegal because The President/The United States is not evil/illegal". Used several times by Dick Cheney and his allies, usually in the tune
  • Ugly Guy, Hot Wife: Averted initially, as Dick and Lynne are both portrayed by young and attractive actors, but as time passes Dick ages horribly and shows all 68 years of his life while Lynne remains good-looking enough to pass for someone in her 50s.
  • Villainous Friendship: Rumsfeld takes a liking to Cheney when he's just an intern and Cheney is moved by Rumsfeld's charisma. They become good friends and mutual schemers during the various administrations; Cheney even landing Rumsfeld a position in Bush's government. Rumsfeld is one of the last betrayals in the movie as Cheney makes him resign after the Iraq war. Cheney tells him that he's sorry, but Rumsfeld says that's a lie because "I wouldn't be."
  • Villain Protagonist: The film shows Dick Cheney as an absolutely ruthless, cruel man responsible for untold death and suffering.
  • Visual Pun: During the heart transplant scene, the camera lingers on a shot of the empty cavity in which Cheney's old heart rested. Cheney is literally and figuratively heartless.
  • War for Fun and Profit: A significant portion of the film is dedicated to the War on Terror's economic side and Cheney's (highly lucrative) relationship with the military-industrial complex.
  • "Well Done, Son!" Guy: Cheney identifies George W. Bush's central ambition as making his father proud.
  • "Where Are They Now?" Epilogue: Parodied mid-way through the film. After Cheney rejects the presidential bid to protect his lesbian daughter Mary, a fake-out epilogue is shown where Cheney never got into politics again and lived a happy life with his family. The credits even roll. Later played straight at the end.
  • You Bastard!: Cheney turns to the audience and accuses them of unfairly judging him poorly when he has kept their families safe through his actions.
  • Young Future Famous People:
    • During the 70s-set sequences, Cheney, desiring to learn more about the Unitary Executive Theory, consults a young lawyer named Antonin Scalia. The film tells you who Scalia will be.
    • Roger Ailes, founder of Fox News, also earns this treatment.
    • In the Stock Footage that shows up during the pre-Iraq War discussion, highlighted are Jeff Sessions (the first Attorney General in the Trump administration), Mike Pence (the next Republican Vice President) and Hillary Clinton (the Democractic candidate defeated in that election).


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