PARK CITY — Critical (though never aggressive) in its script but a pushover in the interviewer’s chair, R.J. Cutler and Greg Finton’s The World According to Dick Cheney offers a respectable summation of the former vice president’s career but reveals little if anything we don’t already know. A film that would need to offer insight, new facts or provocation to make sense at this moment in history instead has a single effect: to ratchet up expectations for Errol Morris’ forthcoming Donald Rumsfeld picture, with the hope-against-hope that Morris, who has elicited so many self-revelations in his career, might get something interesting out of this gang.
Looking leaner but not frail after his 2012 heart transplant, Cheney answers questions reaching back to his Wyoming childhood through the present day — though all we really hear about post-White House life is that he doesn’t entertain any private second-guessing about the choices he has made. (Now there’s a shock.) He takes the filmmakers along for his first post-surgery fly-fishing trip, but that’s the extent of our window into Cheney’s current private life.
We do hear, briefly, about youthful misdemeanors: Having flunked out of Yale, he worked manual-labor jobs and got a couple of DWIs before being (we’re led to believe) straightened out by wife-to-be Lynne Vincent. From there it was a quick rise through a second college career, where ’60s campus radicalism pushed him toward conservative politics, to a job working for a Nixon administration employee named Donald Rumsfeld.
Rumsfeld makes multiple appearances here, as do a couple other colleagues and a host of journalists, but we get no real window into the personal connection the two forged over decades as colleagues. We do, though, get a sense of their effectiveness as a team under Gerald Ford — where digging out from under Nixon’s disgrace inspired Cheney’s desire, amplified years later, to carve out bold claims of presidential power in the face of uppity legislators. The pace of storytelling remains brisk through Cheney’s subsequent congressional career (barely even mentioned) and his thoughts of running for president, and only finally slows with the arrival of the Iraq war, when Cutler and Finton must spend more time on the Bush administration’s key scandals.
Cheney’s critics will have plenty of opportunities to complain of entire subjects untouched here — his evasion of military service during the Vietnam War, for instance — but more frustrating is the film’s inability to press him on the topics it does raise. If the filmmakers ever pushed Cheney on a well-rehearsed answer, ever challenged a self-serving rationale, that footage is on the cutting-room floor. Instead of making a deep interview the heart of the film, a la Morris’ Fog of War, Cutler and Finton use their time with him as just one element of a doc whose connect-the-dots narration (by fictional president and real-world advertising shill Dennis Haysbert) is so personality-free it will likely be shrug-producing with viewers of all political stripes.
Production Company: Reveal Productions
Directors: R.J. Cutler, Greg Finton
Screenwriters-Producers: R.J. Cutler, Francis Gasparini
Executive producers: R.J. Cutler
Directors of photography: Sean Kirby, Bob Richman
Music: Craig Richey
Editor: Greg Finton