The World According to Dick Cheney (2013) - Can't Stop the Movies
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The World According to Dick Cheney (2013)

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The picture that sums it upAndrew LIKE Banner "The way that history works out, you don't get a lot of credit for what didn't happen."

Throughout R.J. Cutler's documentary on the career of Dick Cheney we don't get to hear the man pontificate on himself very often.  That quote serves as one of the only illuminating pieces of commentary that the former Vice President is willing to offer up on his legacy.  He's not a man willing to apologize and based on his value system doesn't seem like he ever will.  Instead, he's gone off into the corners of the world convinced that what he did was right, and the history that wasn't written is how he should be remembered.

I love that quote because it shows the strength of Cheney's conviction.  Just imagine what our history books would look like if they were written on the basis of what didn't happen versus what did?  His perspective later in life, which seems to conflict on his unprecedented power-building as Vice President, is that of the perfect server - never seen but always felt.  Instead history will remember Cheney as the hard-lined maitre d' of a Presidency that was run from behind.

The World According to Dick Cheney, unfortunately, doesn't have that many illuminating moments.  It's structured as a talking heads interview interspersed with the usual array of topical clips and photographs illuminating Cheney's career.  Having unseen Cutler's previous work I cannot say if this style is one he's implemented before, but it reminded me of a less intrusive version of The Fog of War, Errol Morris' fascinating documentary about another divisive figure, Robert McNamara.

I wanted to know more about this kid who would be king, but what bits we get are interesting enough.

I wanted to know more about this kid who would be king, but what bits we get are interesting enough.

The opening segments of Cutler's film had me giddy with possibility.  Cheney is a figure who interests me because our personal philosophies regarding leadership and work are not that far apart.  I've always said that it is much better to be a lieutenant than it is a leader, and if I divorce my personal politics from my view of Cheney's career he is the perfect example of that.  Cutler just lets Cheney talk and answer very basic questions about himself and virtues he admires before the man stumbles on his faults.  He answers, in another great moment, that his greatest fault is probably he doesn't think about his faults that much.

I admire that kind of conviction, and I wish that Cutler's film was able to build on that.  The initial moments seem to, building on Cheney's childhood perception of an endless America consisting of streets to nowhere and mountainous fields that also go on into infinity.  That Cheney hints at a romantic that Cutler does not build on, and instead looks at a drunken college failure who built his persona back up.  I admire the romanticism too, but where are the stories and footage of the Cheney who rebuilt himself?  I can't say, and I wish the film could, because there are some wonderful human moments listening to him talk about his early life.

One thing that the documentary does incredibly well is show the effect that Cheney had on the evolving power wielded by the Vice Presidency.  A lot of time is spent on Gerald Ford taking the helm after Nixon's resignation in comparison to what Cheney would eventually do.  The duality is fascinating in looking at a man who was treating the position as a perfunctory result of process and a man who built his power structure from the ground up.  The image of Ford, with his sad eyes, defending his pardon of Nixon compared with the fire of Cheney standing alone in the President's cabinet tell it all.  Cutler was right to juxtapose the two, both as an evolution of the Republican party and VP power.

No one bothers the man behind the mirror if he flaunts the illusion openly.

No one bothers the man behind the mirror if he flaunts the illusion openly.

I liked Cutler's film a lot, and while I wish that the talking-head format had either more variety or more Cheney, my dissatisfaction stems more from the questions I'm not sure Cutler could have answered.  For example, the relationship between Cheney and Donald Rumsfeld is given a lot of screen-time because of how closely they worked together for years.  How did Bush feel when Cheney said that Rumsfeld is the best boss he's ever worked for?  Why are the tensions with Condoleezza Rice cut barely touched on?  Where are the social politics?  Domestic policies?  Thoughts on shooting a man in the face?  The film focuses so much on war and fighting that it doesn't even mention what Cheney felt about homosexuals, or examine what must have been some complex conversations with his daughter.

On and on, the questions build.  I wish that the title held true to the result of Cutler's film, but when the final montage rolls we know less about what the world was really like for Dick Cheney and more what he did.  How much was Cheney willing to say?  I don't know, but I wish that Cutler pushed for more.  Someone this fascinating deserves the opportunity to defend with cause and attack without provocation, but someone as smart as Cheney seems to know to avoid that.  Shame, I wish I could have known more.

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The World According to Dick Cheney - TailThe World According to Dick Cheney (2013)

Directed by R.J. Cutler.

Posted by Andrew

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