‘Vice’ and Other US-Bashing Movies

December 21, 2018 Updated: December 30, 2018


LONDON—I am a member of BAFTA, the British Academy of Film and Television Arts, so I see a lot of movies each month. Sadly, this past year, I have had my fill of movies that do not depict the America I know and love.

“Vice,” a new release about former Vice President Dick Cheney, though featuring a fine performance from Christian Bale, is pure left-wing “agitprop” and parody; the British audience the night I saw it went crazy with joy over it. Whenever I witness Britons reveling in anti-American fodder I ask, “So your history is so virtuous, guys?”  

The film by “Saturday Night Live” writer Adam McKay sets out to depict every tawdry aspect of Cheney’s life from teenhood to the White House. I suppose to those who detested every minute of the Bush 43 era, this is two hours of heaven.

Even “Demublicans” like me, however, have to grudgingly accept that after 9/11, no apocalyptic terror attacks hit the U.S. mainland. Yes, the British “shoe-bomber” was aborted in his murderous deed by those on the airliner, but the ruthlessness of Cheney and Donald Rumsfeld over seven years could be credited with reducing the level of terrorism many had expected.

When I point out to friends that Rumsfeld is an inveterate opera-goer, they snap, “Yes, so were the Nazis!” A voracious reader and lifelong fan of liberal statesman Adlai Stevenson, Rumsfeld is not the bumbling, vulgar nincompoop depicted in “Vice,” but McKay got the funding for this movie in order to nail for posterity the worst aspects of post-9/11 Washington and to repudiate those he detests.

Distortion, Sloppiness, Violence

Aside from the movies and documentaries that show Americans in just about the worst light—such as “Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri”—frankly, I don’t know any Americans in my big family and wide circle of friends and colleagues who are anything remotely like the loathsome characters depicted.

I find it notable that some of the particularly nasty films about the United States are directed by Britons.

“Three Billboards,” directed, written, and produced by Londoner Martin McDonagh, was utterly adored by my British Academy colleagues and indeed got their vote for Best Picture. Though I will acknowledge its excellent acting and cinematography, I cringed at the protagonists. Am I being one-dimensional by wondering why the character played by Frances McDormand was not prosecuted for sadistically attacking her dentist? Is it right for a police officer to calmly throw someone out of an upstairs window? I appreciate a mother’s rage over her daughter’s fate, but did not find her fire-bombing of the police station justifiable.

Everyone I know here in the UK adored the film, but it is interesting that the American Oscar Academy did not honor it with Best Picture, instead choosing the offbeat “The Shape of Water.” Also notable is that recently on the BBC panel show “Dateline London,” the Belgian journalist Eunice Goes, in a swipe at American cultural tastes, asserted that the Oscar academy “only rewards blockbusters.” Wrong! The past decade has seen unconventional works “The Artist,” “Birdman,” “Spotlight,” “Moonlight,” and “The Shape of Water” topping the honors.

“Overlord,” directed by young Australian Julius Avery, is not anti-American but just plain sloppy: It’s a tableau of Nazi cruelty that never explains it is actually about the unspeakable experiments done on Jews and captured villagers.

The receptionists at the film academy well-meaningly told me excitedly, “It’s a horror film with creepy monsters!” After the screening, when I asked one of them if she knew about the infamous sadist Dr. Mengele, who had experimented on Jewish twins, she said, “No.” She is German and her young colleague British; it alarmed me that neither one had any grasp that this was not a “horror film.”

Though an admirable piece of wishful thinking, the opening scene of a black pilot commanding an airborne division with a heroic black paratrooper would have been an impossibility. Sad to say, segregation in the U.S. military was strictly enforced. What I call the “inverted liberalism” of the scenario fails to tell the truth about this less-than-admirable chapter in American history.

Films directed by Britons that have intensely annoyed me include Andrea Arnold‘s “American Honey,” an overlong epic about a bunch of violent, foul-mouthed young people. David McKenzie‘s “Hell or High Water” was another violence-filled piece of cinema hell-bent on depicting only the ugly side of the country. John Michael (brother of Martin) McDonagh’s “War on Everyone” was one of the most violent films I have ever endured. It gave such a distorted view of the United States, and of human beings in general, I had nasty flashbacks for several weeks. Had I not been in the middle of the row, I’d have left after 10 minutes.

“Hell on Earth,” about the war in Syria, suggests U.S. and British action in World War II had lasting consequences that eventually led to the bloodletting in Syria, Iraq, and Libya. What? The brave allies who fought against German, Italian, and Japanese fascism in World War II saved mankind from the Thousand Year Reich. That British Goldcrest and American National Geographic could fund a film that suggests this bravery caused today’s violent world is astounding.


Finally, Britons love to throw at me the notion that “Hollywood only casts Britons as villains.” My reply is, doh? What about the greatly loved Cary Grant, David Niven, Alec Guinness, James Mason, Peter O’Toole, Richard Burton, and all 007 heroes starting with Sean Connery?

Hollywood has often given plum roles to Britons, notably Vivien Leigh and Leslie Howard in “Gone with the Wind.” Right now in cinemas, Briton Felicity Jones is Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg in “On the Basis of Sex,” Rosamund Pike is American war correspondent Marie Colvin in “A Private War,” and the aforementioned Christian Bale is Dick Cheney.

Gary Oldman, Judi Dench, and the late Peter O’Toole have all praised the United States for its unbounded graciousness to Britons. Wish it would be reciprocated.

Philadelphia-born Carol Gould is a UK-based political commentator. She is the author of “Don’t Tread on Me: Anti-Americanism Abroad” and “Spitfire Girls.”

Views expressed in this article are the opinions of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of The Epoch Times.