Dick Cheney’s favorite food is spaghetti. Anyone looking for a more profound revelation should probably pass up “The World According to Dick Cheney,” a powder-puff profile by helmers R.J. Cutler and Greg Finton likely to be remembered as a great squandered opportunity. Intended audiences, or anyone who’s read a newspaper in the past 10 years, will be not only disappointed but actively irritated by the helmers’ soft-pedaling of controversy, recycling of old news, failure to challenge their subject on any issue, and rudimentary style. Showtime has it, and there it should languish.
Like him or not, Cheney — erstwhile Congressman, secretary of defense, White House chief of staff and probably the most influential vice president in U.S. history — is a ripe target for investigation, one virtually guaranteed to engage and possibly enrage. But during the one interview that Cutler and Finton seem to have gotten with Cheney, they brought the proverbial knife to a gunfight.
The most spectacular statements Cheney makes go unanswered by the filmmakers, who don’t seem to have enough of a grasp of the rather familiar history to call him on some of his more presumptuous positions — that waterboarding wasn’t torture, for instance, or that the alternative to “enhanced interrogation” was the risk of terrorist attacks. (Elsewhere in the film, and in the media, the efficacy of torture has been judged as unreliable at best.)
Cheney admits Al Gore won the popular vote in 2000, but claims George W. Bush won the electoral college, which didn’t in fact happen until the Supreme Court stopped the recount in Florida. Cheney says the Bush administration’s unauthorized wiretapping was perfectly fine, despite his own Justice Dept. having threatened mass resignations after deeming it illegal.
Rather than get Cheney to defend his positions, the docu leaves the counterarguments to the various scholars, lawyers and journalists, such as Bob Woodward and the Nation’s David Korn, to explain the case against Cheney. But this is a cheat: Any viewer wanting to see “The World According to Dick Cheney” wants to hear the man himself explain why, for instance, when he says he supported the Vietnam War, he got five deferments from the draft. When he waxes indignant about the Iraq War and the misinformation campaign he led on TV news shows, one have would have liked Cutler and Finton to ask about his old company Halliburton, war profits and no-bid contracts. The viewer gets none of this.
Cheney the docu subject will earn a certain amount of respect, even from his non-fans, for his utter refusal to entertain, or at least articulate, any doubt about anything that took place over the course of his 40-year political career. From the time he and Donald Rumsfeld were orchestrating matters at the Ford White House, to his failed presidential campaign, to his unwavering claims about Saddam Hussein’s weapons of mass destruction, to the Valerie Plame case, to the machinations that occurred off the public stage during the wiretapping fiasco, Cheney says he wouldn’t do anything differently. What earns no respect, however, is the filmmakers’ failure to push any issue, or any buttons.
Tech credits are adequate, although interview subjects are often cast in a macabre light that seems intended to create a tension that’s otherwise missing. The use of music can be emotionally misleading: The strains that accompany scenes of Donald Rumsfeld’s retirement ceremony are strangely elegiac, contradicting the portrait of Rumsfeld the movie otherwise builds.