By John Grant
Anyone who has ever questioned the Iraq War and Dick Cheney as a vice president expropriating power as second banana to a shallow man ill-equipped to lead anything has to see the Adam McKay film. It’s nothing short of incredible. The filmmaker has created a hybrid genre that’s part narrative, part essay; most important, it’s extremely entertaining with just the right elements of satire, horror and tragedy. While it’s clearly driven by a disdain for its protagonist, it’s not reductive and presents a fully human, three-dimensional dramatic character. McKay’s point seems to be, this is serious stuff for all Americans and we ought to give it a lot more thought than we did as it was unfolding. Especially now, when we have a president with unquestioned, in-your-face authoritarian instincts.
McKay began as a Saturday Night Live writer and went on to make films like Anchorman with Will Ferrell, with whom he made at least five films. As McKay did in The Big Short – the first serious film he directed without Will Ferrell – in this internet, i-phone age of interactive, touch-screen communication, he likes to use bold and ironic graphics to advance his tale. Perhaps his most creative touch is the use of visual metaphors – quick images of predatory animals, a drawing by Goya from his Disasters of War series, a precarious, wobbling stack of teacups and saucers, a still of golfers playing with a backdrop of a raging California forest fire – popped in the middle of a playing-out scene like modifying literary metaphors. It feels unorthodox, but it seems to hark back to the basic Eisenstein montage theory of juxtaposing images to establish complex emotions quickly. It certainly does that, creating a rich stew of images for the brain to chew on.
McKay wrote the screenplay, which begins in Cheney’s youthful, wild days of drunken rowdiness where he’s a man headed off the rails. His wife Lynne reads him the riot act: Straighten up or it’s goodbye, Dick. She tells him she didn’t sign on to be the wife of an asshole like her abusive father, who the film virtually indicts for the drowning death of Lynne’s mother. Thanks to wife Lynne, Dick turns to the pursuit of Power, which as they say, made all the difference. There is a wonderful scene later in the film where — in bed and played like late-in-a-marriage foreplay — the two erotically recite an exchange between Shakespeare’s MacBeth and his famously ambitious Lady. It’s both funny and very serious…
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