'Vice' Film: Separating Fact From Fiction In The New Dick Cheney Biopic

Some scenes are straight from the history books – others, not so much.

With Christian Bale having already bagged a Golden Globe and the film racking up an impressive eight Oscar nominations, ‘Vice’ is clearly one to watch this awards season.

Now it is finally in UK cinemas so film fans can treat themselves to a trip to the cinema and get a lesson in US politics thrown in for free. Well, sort of.

Naturally, director Adam McKay has been a little creative with some of the scenes so while most of what you see is true – Dick Cheney did, after all, become the most powerful US Vice President in history – not everything is entirely factual.

Christian Bale as Dick Cheney
Christian Bale as Dick Cheney

How much of it is grounded in truth? And which scenes see him use a little (or a lot) artistic licence?

Let’s separate the facts from the fiction. Needless to say, there are spoilers ahead...

Did Dick Cheney really get caught drunk-driving and drop out of Yale?

Yes. The film opens with the future VP getting pulled over while intoxicated and when he then drops out of Yale, Lynne – his childhood sweetheart who he met at 14 and married in 1964 – gives him a stern talking to, which seemingly puts him on the right path.

This all really happened and after bailing on the prestigious college, he eventually got a BA in Political Sciences from the University of Wyoming.

What next? Did he actually start as a White House intern?

Yes, again. The film does skip ahead a little bit though as we see Cheney immediately gravitate towards Donald Rumsfield (Steve Carrell) when in actual fact, he briefly worked for congressman William A. Steiger first.

Did Dick Cheney actually search for another Vice President for George W. Bush?

The film sees Bale’s Cheney promise Bush to search for a suitable running mate, after initially turning down the job himself.

However, it seems pretty clear that as he delivers that plan, he’s already reconsidering the role and viewers are left wondering whether he actually tried to find another VP for Bush or not.

In real-life, Bush asked Cheney to find him a VP before offering him the job and according to insiders, Cheney’s search was pretty ruthless.

Journalist Bart Gellman previously explained that Cheney “asked [prospective running mates] to give him direct access to their FBI files [...] and to sign waivers of privacy for all health records without exception”.

He also asked them “whether there was something that would make them vulnerable to blackmail—and if so, what?”.

Gellman says Cheney (whose real heart problems are also a big feature in ‘Vice’) never disclosed his own health records though and after his detailed search, Bush surprised everyone by asking him to take the job instead.

Did Lynne Cheney’s dad murder her mum?

This is heavily implied in ‘Vice’ but there’s no evidence supporting this.

Amy Adams’ Lynne Cheney breaks down when her mother dies, informing Dick that she has drowned yet couldn’t swim, the implication being “why would she be near a lake in the first place?”.

According to local news reports from the time, Edna drowned after falling into a lake while walking her dogs. Her husband, Edwin, then reported her missing and when her body was discovered, examinations ruled there had been no foul play.

Did George W. Bush really win the Presidential election by just 537 votes in Florida?

With Cheney at his side, Bush went into the 2000 election, up against the Democrat’s candidate Al Gore.

In Florida (which is largely considered to be a key state to win in any presidential election), Bush triumphed by less than 0.5% of votes, automatically triggering a recount.

He then won the recount too, which was done by machine, but opponent Gore exercised his legal right to a recount by hand – which is when the problems appeared.

George Bush and Dick Cheney (with Bush's dog) in 2000
George Bush and Dick Cheney (with Bush's dog) in 2000

It was soon found that some ballots hadn’t been counted properly due to a problem with the papers themselves but as the recount continued (and continued some more, it takes a seriously long time), Gore had to fight deadlines while Bush’s team claimed it should stop.

After court appeals from both sides, the saga came to an end in early December when the Supreme Court controversially voted 5-4 in favour of the recount being stopped, thus declaring Bush victorious, with state legislatures marking his win margin as just 537 votes.

Gore’s attempts to legally overturn this failed.

The film misses out an assassination attempt on Cheney’s life

‘Vice’ covers over 50 years in US politics, jumping frequently between various historical events.

But while it catalogues all of Cheney’s heart attacks, it misses another threat on his life, as in 2007, a suicide bomber killed 23 people outside an Afghanistan airfield being visited by Cheney.

When the blast took place at the base’s front gate, Cheney was inside and around half a mile away, escaping unhurt.

The Taliban later claimed responsibility for the bombing and it was rumoured that Osama Bin Laden had overseen the operation.

Did Cheney really take the lead role in the hours after 9/11?

‘Vice’ very much characterises Cheney as being the key decision maker, claiming he gave authorities the green light to shoot down hijacked planes, without speaking to the President first.

However, both Cheney and Bush have previously claimed they had a phone call where the latter authorised this decision.

Condoleezza Rice – who is depicted as being wary of Cheney when he authorises shooting down planes, even suggesting he call Bush again – has also recalled overhearing Cheney’s half of the conversation, saying she heard him say “yes, sir” when Bush gave the command.

Interestingly, given that ‘Vice’ pitches itself as a dark comedy, director McKay chose not to feature Bush going ahead with his plan to read to schoolchildren shortly after the attack happened.

LisaGay Hamilton as Condoleezza Rice
LisaGay Hamilton as Condoleezza Rice

What’s the deal with the Cheney family drama?

While Dick rises to the top of the food chain in the White House, Lynne raises their two daughters, Liz and Mary.

When Mary comes out as lesbian during high school (something which did happen), the Cheneys confront the difficulties she may face – and the fact he’s part of the Republican party, who even now struggle with the idea of gay marriage.

The film sees Cheney support gay marriage which to be honest, seems at odds with the rest of his decisions, but this part of ‘Vice’ is true.

When Bush backed a bill that would forbid any state from allowing gay or lesbian couples to get hitched, Cheney publicly spoke out against it.

The real Liz and Mary Cheney
The real Liz and Mary Cheney

When Mary married her longterm partner Heather Poe in 2012, the Cheneys released a statement which read: “Mary and Heather have been in a committed relationship for many years, and we are delighted that they were able to take advantage of the opportunity to have that relationship recognised.

“Mary and Heather and their children are very important and much loved members of our family and we wish them every happiness.”

Liz was not at the wedding. And when she then launched her own political career as a Republican, she faced speculation over whether she was actually pro-gay marriage (from people claiming that would be a bad thing).

Liz was then happy to clarify, as she does in ‘Vice’, going on television to declare herself “strongly pro-life and [...] not pro-gay marriage”.

People reports that she then went on Fox News, adding: “I love Mary very much, I love her family very much. This is just an issue on which we disagree.”

Mary and Heather soon responded, expressing their upset at Liz’s “offensive” comments and eventually the Cheneys stepped in – supporting both Mary’s right to marriage and Liz’s right to her views.

In the years since, the sisters are not believed to have reconciled.

How much do we know about Cheney’s heart donor?

As the film draws to a close, we finally discover the link between Kurt (who has served as a narrator) and the vice president when it’s revealed he became his heart donor.

Jesse Plemons as Kurt
Jesse Plemons as Kurt

Kurt is depicted as being a war veteran, who dies after being hit by a car while jogging. However, this is all completely fictitious.

Cheney had the transplant at the age of 71 and when it took place, the donor was never revealed, with all details about them remaining anonymous.

Cheney himself didn’t know who it came from either, and later said: “I always thank the donor, generically thank donors, for the gift that I’ve been given, but I don’t spend time wondering who had it, what they’d done, what kind of person.”

‘Vice’ is in UK cinemas now.


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