By David Zurawik
The Baltimore Sun
1:57 PM EDT, March 10, 2013
The first question Dick Cheney is asked in "The World According to Dick Cheney" is: What's your favorite virtue?
"Integrity," he answers.
What do you value most in your friends?" he's asked in follow-up.
"Honesty," he says through those crooked, snarly, cartoon-character lips.
Documentary filmmaker R. J. Cutler then spends most of the next 89 minutes in this documentary that premieres Friday night on Showtime chronicling what a deadly and destructive liar the former vice president of the United States has been throughout his career.
At about 65 minutes in, viewers are shown image after image and sound bite after sound bite of Cheney lying, lying and then lying some more about weapons of mass destruction in Iraq and how the safety of America was tied to the imperative of invading that country.
Now, after 4488 military deaths in Iraq, we know what a pack and a half of lies that was.
But guess what? Cheney isn't one bit repentant or even self-reflective about all the damage he did to this country with his Iago-like scheming during the administration of the empty-headed and mostly-out-to-lunch George W. Bush
At the end of 90 minutes, you can't help but think Cheney gave Cutler a long sit-down interview for the film so that he could use it to spit in the face of his critics one last time. And he does just that, lying to the end.
The final sequence shows him fishing out of a boat that another man rows for him.
"I don't lay awake nights thinking, 'Gee, what are they going to say about me now,'" Cheney says in voiceover. "I didn't worry about it a lot when I was doing it, and I thought the best way to get on with my life and my career was to do what I thought was right. I did what I did and it's all part of 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."
Those are the final words of the film.
Of course, it's not "all part of the public record." This guy specialized in dark deeds that he hoped would never be known. Did anyone ever explain that mysterious fire in his vice presidential office?
Here's the bottom line on "The World According to Dick Cheney" and Cutler: The veteran filmmaker delivered an outstanding work of non-fiction that instantly jumps Showtime into a league with HBO in documentary excellence. No doubt about it.
But as fine a work as it is and as many lies as Cutler's film skillfully exposes, his film is going to satisfy almost no one. I know that, because it left me monumentally dissatisfied.
On this blog, I have endlessly called for down-the-middle, even-handed, non-partisan journalism. I am totally committed to that value -- even as it makes enemies on the right and the left.
Intellectually, I know I should want the same approach to documentary filmmaking. I know that's logical and righteous.
But I have to be honest. I wanted this film to nail Cheney to the wall, nail after nail after nail until he was nothing but bloody indentations without one moment of relief.
And, truth be told, I wanted even more. I wanted to see or hear some sense of him standing over a wash basin at 2 a.m. in a cold sweat, compulsively washing and re-washing hands moaning, "Out, out damned spot...All the perfume in Arabia...." I wanted to see the gods punishing him like the MacBeths.
I wanted to hear Cheney acknowledge all the American blood he and Bush and his great mentor and pal, Donald Rumsfeld, caused to be shed in Iraq -- and the way that war and other reckless actions from this trio all but bankrupted this nation.
But, of course, that's Michael Moore, not Cutler -- and it worries me that I want it even as I know how wrong that is. But maybe down-the-middle filmmaking and journalism does hit a wall when it comes up against cunning, scheming, arrogant zealots as dangerous as Cheney and Rumsfeld and the lying lawyers who gave them cover.
Anyway, do not miss this film.
I have been singing Cutler's praises for many years -- back through films and reality TV series like "Black White" and "American High."
He is one of our most gifted documentary filmmakers. His sure hands are in evidence from the very first frames showing Cheney taking a last quick drink and then asking whether he is going to be the only one on camera during the interview -- or will his questioner also be seen.
Cutler shows it to remind viewers of the artifice of interviews and documentaries. That there are cameras and staging involved. And that people like Cheney play to those cameras.
And it happens so fast, you barely notice what the filmmaker is doing before the former CEO of oil giant Halliburton starts talking about how much he values "integrity" and "honesty."
On the minus side, Cutler doesn't go near the New York Times and the role it played in helping Cheney sell the weapons of mass destruction lie to the American people. I guess independent filmmakers can't afford enemies at that level, but you can't discuss the evil that Cheney did in Iraq without discussing the echo chamber of lies the New York Times helped him create.
Even if you think you know all there is to know about this dark force in American politics, watch the film.
I didn't know that Cheney failed out of Yale -- twice. And I didn't know that he spent the first four years after high school mainly drunk on his butt with two D.U.I.'s. Does the young-man-as-drunk theme not suggest that maybe he and Bush were made for each other?
Like Cheney, I went to graduate school at the University of Wisconsin, and we did it during the same era.
He said he didn't pay much attention to the massive anti-war demonstrations at the school, because he and his wife, Lynne, wanted "to get on" with their "lives" and start a family.
Just think how many Americans lost their lives needlessly because he didn't learn any of the lessons of Vietnam as they played out on campuses across America. Think how many American families have lost loved ones as a result of him getting a jumpstart on his.
Think about that. He ignored the homefront lessons of Vietnam so that he and Lynne could get on with their lives -- right into Baghdad three decades later.
Thank you for all your great service to the country, Mr. Vice President.
All I can say is that I hope Showtime's "The World According to Dick Cheney" does exactly for your reputation and place in history what HBO's "Game Change" did for Sarah Palin's.
"The World According to Dick Cheney" premieres at 9 p.m. Friday on Showtime.
UPDATE: This post has been revised to include the current figure for military deaths in Iraq.
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