A limp look at a tough subject in Showtime's The World According to Dick Cheney
03/12/13 09:42 AM
By ED BARK
Dick Cheney's favorite food is spaghetti. Noodle that because you're not going to get much else out of him in Showtime's disappointing first effort to brand a new documentary film series under the banner Sho: Close Up.
The subject is filmed in close-up throughout The World According to Dick Cheney. But the one hour, 45-minute film (Friday, March 15th at 8 p.m. central) has little if anything new to tell us. From Cheney's perspective, it's all pretty much been covered in his 2011 autobiography, In My Time: A Personal and Political Memoir.
The oft-maligned "Darth Vader" of the George W. Bush administration is circumspect to a fault. He's also a man without any faults -- or at least none he cares to address. "My main fault," he replies during an early buzz round of brief questions. "Um, well, I don't spend a lot of time thinking about my faults, I guess would be the answer."
Veteran filmmaker R. J. Cutler considers this the third film in a political trilogy that also includes 1992's Oscar-nominated The War Room and 1995's Emmy-nominated A Perfect Candidate.
In Showtime publicity materials, Cutler says that work on the Cheney doc began close to nine months before he agreed to be a participant. During four days of interviews at a pace of five hours a day, "he was extremely forthcoming and giving of his time," Cutler contends.
There's little evidence of that. One of the problems is that the questions asked of Cheney are seldom heard. So it's impossible to know how hard he was pressed -- unlike David Frost's famed sparring with former president Richard Nixon in a series of television interviews.
Cheney bristles just once -- and it's during one of those rare times when either Cutler or a member of his production team are part of the film's audio.
"And the argument that this was a war you wanted?" the former vice president is asked.
"Wanted?" Cheney answers. "Why, 'cause we like war?" And that's it.
Other voices are heard in new interviews, including Cheney's longtime friend Donald Rumsfeld and the ubiquitous Bob Woodward. George W. Bush, whose relationship with Cheney cooled during his second term as president, did not cooperate in the making of this film. That's hardly surprising, and Bush's views of events likewise have been documented in his 2010 memoir, Decision Points.
World According To whisks through Cheney's early years, including two well-documented arrests for drunk driving as a young adult.
"That was very sobering," Cheney says without irony. His future wife, Lynne, eventually confronted him and demanded he make something of himself or else. As for the specifics, "That's still private," says Cheney.
He's never asked about the five draft deferments he received during the height of the Vietnam War. Or if he was asked, there's no on-camera evidence. It would seem to be relevant, given Cheney's zeal for sending others into battle and his full-blown championing of the war in Iraq.
The film deploys others to talk about how Cheney strong-armed one of the war's most influential opponents, conservative Texas Rep. Dick Armey. After a one-on-one meeting with the vice president, Armey suddenly changed his position and said that the threat from Saddam Hussein is "greater than I had supposed."
Cheney himself does not address any of this. Nor does he reflect on his certitude that Iraq was stockpiling weapons of mass destruction. The film instead replays an old 2004 National Public Radio interview in which Cheney spoke of finding "a couple of semi-trailers" that were part of a nuclear lab program. Others say they in fact were producing hydrogen for weather balloons.
As he has many times, Cheney again defends the "enhanced interrogation" techniques used at the Guantanamo Bay detention camp to get information from suspected terrorists and their consorts.
"Are you gonna trade the lives of a number of people because you want to preserve your honor? . . . That's not a close call for me," he says.
Viewers are left with the overall impression that Cheney was a very powerful vice president. That's common knowledge. And that he really doesn't care about being "loved" and could care even less if he's second-guessed. Again, we already knew that.
One doesn't expect miracles from a film of this sort. But it's as if Cutler and company didn't even try to engage Cheney and draw him out. Perhaps they were intimidated by a man who more and more looks like Alastair Sim's version of Ebenezer Scrooge. Or maybe they were afraid he'd say, "OK, that's it. Interview's over. Now get out of here!"
At least that would have made for "good television." The World According to Dick Cheney instead is nuts-and-bolts bland and overly deferential. And the last words of course go to the title character, who says, "I did what I did. It's all on the public record. And I feel very good about it. If I had to do it over again, I'd do it in a minute."
Viewers are left with the thinnest of thin smiles at the end of a film that often seems even thinner. The Fog of War it's not. Not even close.