Director: R.J. Cutler
There are all sorts of speculative theories—some of them quite plausible—about the sinister motives behind Dick Cheney’s vice presidency. The World According to Dick Cheney wisely chooses to avoid them, and instead quietly studies his legacy with cold facts. R.J. Cutler’s slick documentary follows Cheney’s entire career, from Yale flunk-out to youngest-ever White House chief of staff to most powerful vice president in U.S. history. It paints his legacy as a man who firmly believed that the executive branch should get things done without congressional meddling, and did his best to do so, whether it meant pushing laws of questionable constitutionality or lying to representatives of his own party.
The film is built around a four-day interview with Cheney, but don’t expect the same sort of revelations and self-reflection that Robert McNamara provided to Errol Morris in The Fog of War. Cheney receives questions about some of the most controversial moments in his career, but the interview never makes it past the kind of fixed answers he’s been giving for years. He says he makes unpopular decisions because he’s more concerned with doing what’s best for the country than being liked, and so on. Perhaps the problem is with Cheney’s own inability to acknowledge the possibility that he isn’t perfect, but there’s a distinct feeling that the he is not being pushed on all the points that the movie’s other talking heads bring up.
Despite the shortcomings of the interview, the film assembles a portrait of the man’s life, eventually keying in on his time as vice president to George W. Bush. The film examines how Cheney assembled the president’s cabinet with old friends who were more loyal to himself than the president. The most compelling section follows how his take-charge attitude and apathy toward dissenting voices caused him to lose Bush’s trust during the second term. The rest of the documentary doesn’t offer much surprising information, but it assembles it in a conventional but clear manner that leaves us to ponder a life that changed the country like few others.