Adam McKay is arguably one of the strongest political voices in Hollywood. The writer/director, who first made a name for himself as head writer on Saturday Night Live and then as Will Ferrell's collaborator on comedies like Anchorman and Talladega Nights, has reinvented himself as a crusader for progressive politics. His Twitter feed frequently reads more like that of a congressional candidate than a film director, and his 2015 film The Big Short gave a severe dressing down of Bush-era economics and Wall Street greed. Now, he's taking aim at former Vice President Dick Cheney with his new film Vice, but given McKay's own political leanings — which are vastly different from those of Cheney — it's worth asking: how accurate is Vice?
Despite his own personal feelings toward his subject, all indications are that McKay set out to make a fairly accurate film about the enigmatic republican — however, not everyone agrees that he succeeded. While the film gets many of its factual beats correct — Cheney flunked out of Yale and had multiple DUI arrests in his early 20s; he was Chief of Staff under President Gerald Ford; Secretary of Defense under President George H. W. Bush; and as President George W. Bush's Vice President, he pushed strongly for the U.S. to invade Iraq. However, it's in Cheney's motivations and closed-door discussions in some of these situations where some critics say the film fabricates or misleads.
Fred Kaplan of Slate accuses the film of dismissing Cheney's conservative ideology and simplifying his reasons for invading Iraq as being solely related to his oil industry connections, while claiming that the truth behind both issues is far more complex. Michael Brown, Under Secretary of Emergency Preparedness and Response under President Bush, told the Washington Times that the film's portrayal of Cheney as the one really in charge of the Bush Administration was inaccurate, claiming that, "Nothing could be further from the truth. The president indeed relied on the VP for advice, but no more so than he relied on [Secretary of State] Condi Rice or [White House Chief of Staff] Andy Card or other key figures inside the West Wing."
Meanwhile, McKay claims to have gone to great lengths to ensure the film would hold up against such scrutiny. He read the Cheney biography Angler, by Barton Gellman; Jane Mayer’s The Dark Side, about the war on terror; and In My Time, Cheney’s memoir, as part of his research, according to the New York Times. The director also told The Hollywood Reporter that scores of lawyers and professional fact-checkers "vetted" the film to rid it of any inaccuracies. He hired former journalist Jason George to conduct off the record interviews with "about 10 people" close to Cheney to find out what he was like in private. And McKay even screened an early cut of the film for author and renowned Cheney expert Ron Suskind, who approved of its portrayal, according to THR.
With Vice, it seems Adam McKay's extensive research has led to a largely factual account of Dick Cheney's life; at least when it comes to documented events. But when it comes to what was going on in Cheney's mind during these events, well, that's something only Cheney himself can reveal.