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The World According to Dick Cheney is not an examination of a polarizing former vice president. It is a history lesson molded by the perspective of the man whose history it aims to tell. Director R.J. Cutler has produced what amounts to the film version of Cheney’s 2012 memoir.
Less politically aware audiences might be better served by Cutler’s Showtime documentary. (Caution: The film includes photos of torture/nudity arising from the Abu Ghraib scandal and profanity during bomb footage from Iraq.) Others will conclude nearly two hours unentertained and with no new intimacy with the subject.
It is no revelation that Cheney stands by his vice presidency, which is the focus of the biography, or that he believes he was right about waterboarding, WMDs, and warrantless surveillance. “I don’t spend a lot of time thinking about my faults,” Cheney says early on, and this is the first of many times that Cutler—who logged 20 hours with Cheney and also spoke to his wife Lynne—allows the former VP to give a non-answer.
Cheney, for example, acknowledges his “major transformation, obviously,” from a college dropout with two DUIs to a White House staffer 12 years later, but does not draw back the curtain on what that transformation involved. Others—mostly reporters and biographers—guess at major influences in his life, but Cheney does not expound.
The film is seeded with doubts about Cheney’s decision-making process and does not even try to make Cheney—a man who likes the nickname “Darth Vader”—likeable. It captures both sides of the story in that it raises questions and allows Cheney to respond, but Cheney’s self-defense is simply that he was right and anyone who disagreed—including former President George W. Bush—was wrong.
While steering clear of offering an opinion on Cheney or history, this movie may leave audiences no better informed to decide for themselves.