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By Ray Pride Pride@moviecitynews.com

Sundance Review: The World According To Dick Cheney, After Tiller

The first film I saw at Sundance 2013 was a bitter note, a reckless, infuriating piece of work for Showtime, The World According to Dick Cheney, a credulous, shallow, near-hagiography of the former vice president’s decades-long political scheming and proud lying. Built around four days of interviews, Cheney, in this incarnation—the filmmakers say they have the DVD extras to enhance the historical record where the film does not—is told from his perspective. The first hour, narrated by Dennis Haysbert (“24″) with all the gravitas of a quick day session, suggests that Cheney’s entire life was willed, as if a fated life narrative were unfolding before us. Cheney is decisive. Cheney rises above being thrown out of Yale and multiple drunk-driving arrests to become Cheney. Cheney was fated to be Cheney. That’s the level of background provided.

The film is fixed on the force of his crude personality and drive to power. The cut-rate melodramatic score is most pronounced during Cheney’s braggadocio about 9/11, and accompanied by a grab bag of archival footage, endorses his perspective, whether intentionally or not. The very fabric of the filmmaking seems to underline and endorse his every pronunciamento. Turning to wars, the film quickly becomes “Zero Dick Thirty.” Decisiveness! Forget the law! Forget treaties! Cheney is also reprehensible in its innocuousness: reverence toward an elected official turns into something beneath the sorry level of contemporary network news-gathering. While there are terse sound bites from journalists (all of whom are lit to look as geeky as possible), the key interview, done by the filmmakers, is on the level of David Gregory or Oprah, with as many follow-up questions as on a Sunday morning conventional wisdom show. (One? Two? I don’t think it goes higher than that.) It’s even weaker tea than when network interlocutors steep in the proximity of power or vast wealth. (Coincidentally, the film premiered at the same time Oprah’s suddenly visible cable channel offered Lance Armstrong and Oprah a chance to cry a river over the phony athlete’s lost endorsement tens of millions.) No mention of Cheney’s military record, no mention of the Halliburton financial deal that enriched him even into the vice-presidential mansion. All you’re left with is unique access. Four hours of my time to broker platitudes about a lifetime of being closed-off and controlling: what will you do for me, Showtime? We see the answer Cheney got to that question. His bright-eyed grimace when he offers smug, superior, dismissive, clunkily-formed, unfunny one-liners, is the failed film’s high point. Or, perhaps, its only point. Did I mention that Dick Cheney single-handedly saved America and we ought to be grateful for all his fateful acts? History awaits a skeptical portrait.

The next film, a documentary, made for a schizophrenic double feature: the tender, melancholy yet emphatic observational doc, Martha Shane and Lana Wilson’s After Tiller, which follows the work done by the last four doctors who perform third-trimester abortions in this country, all who knew or worked with murdered doctor George Tiller, who was gunned down in a Kansas church in 2009. In its quiet way, it’s an advocacy doc to uphold the law of the land: despite a crazy quilt of state regulations, what they do is legal under federal law. The providers discuss the implications of the acts they perform and the reasons several have continued far past retirement age in their calling. (It’s bracing to hear the word “terrorist” correctly applied to acts of intimidation that include murder and firebombing.)  The position of the filmmakers is never in doubt, but in detailing the daily choices, acts, and emotions, Shane and Wilson have made an assured, incisive humanistic nonfiction film to admire.

One Response to “Sundance Review: The World According To Dick Cheney, After Tiller”

  1. Sam E. says:

    I don’t find a film supports Dick Cheney’s worldview to be a valid artistic criticism. Whatever, you think of him the man does have a life story well worthy of a documentary and this review does very little to convey whether or not the documentary was worthy of that story. Also, I have to seriously wonder how often you’ve seen Mr. Gregory or if you just glibly assume that network news shows cater to the lowest common denominator.

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“Let me try and be as direct as I possibly can with you on this. There was no relationship to repair. I didn’t intend for Harvey to buy and release The Immigrant – I thought it was a terrible idea. And I didn’t think he would want the film, and I didn’t think he would like the film. He bought the film without me knowing! He bought it from the equity people who raised the money for me in the States. And I told them it was a terrible idea, but I had no say over the matter. So they sold it to him without my say-so, and with me thinking it was a terrible idea. I was completely correct, but I couldn’t do anything about it. It was not my preference, it was not my choice, I did not want that to happen, I have no relationship with Harvey. So, it’s not like I repaired some relationship, then he screwed me again, and I’m an idiot for trusting him twice! Like I say, you try to distance yourself as much as possible from the immediate response to a movie. With The Immigrant I had final cut. So he knew he couldn’t make me change it. But he applied all the pressure he could, including shelving the film.”
James Gray

“I’m an unusual producer because I control the destiny of a lot of the films I’ve done. Most of them are in perfect states of restoration and preservation and distribution, and I aim to keep them in distribution. HanWay Films, which is my sales company, has a 500-film catalogue, which is looked after and tended like a garden. I’m still looking after my films in the catalogue and trying to get other people to look after their films, which we represent intellectually, to try to keep them alive. A film has to be run through a projector to be alive, unfortunately, and those electric shadows are few and far between now. It’s very hard to go and see films in a movie house. I was always involved with the sales and marketing of my films, right up from The Shout onwards. I’ve had good periods, but I also had a best period because the film business was in its best period then. You couldn’t make The Last Emperor today. You couldn’t make The Sheltering Sky today. You couldn’t make those films anymore as independent films. There are neither the resources nor the vision within the studios to go to them and say, “I want to make a film about China with no stars in it.”Then, twenty years ago, I thought, “OK, I’m going to sell my own films but I don’t want to make it my own sales company.” I wanted it to be for me but I wanted to make it open for every other producer, so they don’t feel that they make a film but I get the focus. So, it’s a company that is my business and I’m involved with running it in a certain way, but I’m not seen as a competitor with other people that use it. It’s used by lots of different producers apart from me. When I want to use it, however, it’s there for me and I suppose I’m planning to continue making all my films to be sold by HanWay. I don’t have to, but I do because it’s in my building and the marketing’s here, and I can do it like that. Often, it sounds like I’m being easy about things, but it’s much more difficult than it sounds. It’s just that I’ve been at it for a long time and there’s lots of fat and security around my business. I know how to make films, but it’s not easy—it’s become a very exacting life.”
~ Producer Jeremy Thomas