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The History Behind VICE

December 10th, 2018The History Behind VICE

VICE may be the holiday season’s most savage film; it is almost certainly the angriest biopic of the year. Writer/director Adam McKay applies his thoughtful, angry approach from THE BIG SHORT to the story of Richard “Dick” Cheney, the 46th Vice President of the United States.

The bulk of Cheney’s political legacy is tied to his time as VP, but VICE does not confine itself to the eight years Cheney worked alongside President George W. Bush. McKay and company trace Cheney’s long path to that position. How did Cheney get to be the VP? Why did he take a position he initially turned down, especially when he’d been out of electoral politics for years? What did he do as Vice President?

VICE seeks answers to all those questions. Guided by the most recent trailer here’s the history that McKay and stars Christian Bale, Sam Rockwell, Amy Adams, and Steve Carell are exploring.

A Reluctant VP

As Bale’s Cheney and Rockwell’s Bush have lunch, Bush pitches the Vice Presidency. Cheney initially demurs, noting that after working for Gerald Ford as White House Chief of Staff, for Bush’s father George H.W. Bush as Secretary of Defense and serving as the CEO of Halliburton, a “mostly symbolic job” does not particularly appeal to him. But, he suggests, if he and Bush could strike a deal enabling Cheney to wield far more influence and power than past VPs, he could see the potential there.

In real life, Cheney agreed to help Bush find a VP, but turned down the position itself when first asked in March 2000. Bush asked again in July, and Cheney accepted. Despite having described the Vice Presidency as “a cruddy job” in the wake of an aborted presidential campaign in the 1990s and believing that, in his mind, it had “no real job description…” Cheney saw a unique opportunity to wield real power


Cheney lays out his pitch to Bush. “I can handle the more… mundane jobs. Oversee bureaucracy, military, energy and uh, foreign policy.” (Props to Bale here for nailing Cheney’s infamous growl) Early in Bush’s first term, he told Republican senators “When you’re talking to Dick Cheney, you’re talking to me. When Dick Cheney’s talking, it’s me talking.” Cheney hired a huge staff, and involved himself in matters both foreign and domestic. Ultimately, he sought to wield his power with maximum force and efficiency.

Cheney wanted to be part of everything. He saw the Vice Presidency as a chance to “correct all those mistakes” he believed he’d made during his earlier years in politics. He balked at the notion of oversight and tried to avoid leaving public evidence of his actions whenever he could get away with it. Cheney’s penchant for secrecy was not well regarded – according to his US Senate biography even the famously conservative columnist George Will took issue with him.

Man Versus Image

Cheney’s reputation for secrecy and ruthlessness tripped him up more than once. Those tendencies collided with the reality that, as a major government official, he was a public figure. On one infamous occasion, alluded to in VICE’s trailer, Cheney accidentally shot a friend during a hunting trip. He said nothing about the incident until days after the shooting had become public knowledge. His reticence to say anything at all, let alone to say it quickly, contributed to the notion that he was a shady, even sinister figure.

True or not, that notion became increasingly popular as the Bush presidency wound down. Cheney hoped to use his long history in politics to more effectively pursue his goals, but the task wasn’t so simple. That said, there isn’t a VP in recent history who had as much effect on the country — and the world — as Cheney. And this is only a glimpse at his story. VICE explores the many echoes of Cheney’s Vice Presidency, which still sound today. 

VICE opens on December 25.

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