'The World According to Dick Cheney' as seen through R.J. Cutler's lens

Certitude and conviction in a politician is a double-edged sword. If you disagree with the person, you want him or her to be conciliatory, cooperative and amenable to compromise. If you agree with the person, you want him or her to stand strong and defend your shared policies and principles.

Few politicians of the modern era exemplify this better than Richard Cheney. There are those who consider him a valiant warrior for the cause, while others see him as a combination of Machiavelli and Darth Vader.

On Friday, March 15 -- intentionally, or not, also the Ides of March -- Showtime premieres "The World According to Dick Cheney," a profile of the controversial vice president who served under President George W. Bush after a career that included stints in Congress, as White House chief of staff (under Gerald Ford) and as secretary of defense (under George H.W. Bush).

Harvard-educated filmmaker R.J. Cutler ( "Nashville," "A Perfect Candidate," "The War Room") tells Zap2it, "we certainly argue in the film that Vice President Cheney is a man of great conviction, great patriotism, great passion. It is my belief that conviction is a necessary element of the success of a democracy. Leaders who believe in things, I believe, are the engines of a successful democracy.

"Leaders who don't believe in anything except perhaps stopping the other side from accomplishing anything or getting themselves re-elected, these people clog up the engine of democracy and cause it to sputter and worse.

"And here is a man whose conviction, I believe, is hard to argue. However, conviction itself, absolute belief and certainty in the fact that what you believe is completely right and unfailing, and above either question or reproach, at a certain point, could have its dangers."

One thing that comes through in Cutler's conversations with Cheney is that the vice president is not interested in outside approval or affection and that he stands by his beliefs and choices.

Former George W. Bush press secretary -- and co-host of the Fox News Channel weekday roundtable show "The Five" -- Dana Perino has yet to see the documentary, which premiered in January at the Sundance Film Festival, but of course she had a front-row seat to what happened during Cheney's time in office.

Asked by email what she thinks his legacy will be, Perino responds, "The great thing is, none of us will live long enough to find out; history will have to decide. I like how he can spin up the left and make them crazy by never being cowed by them. I think he was an excellent choice for the vice presidency."

Although Perino doesn't believe history has yet passed judgment on Cheney, Cutler says that one goal of his film was to take the long view of Cheney's time in the White House -- in particular, the administration's response to 9/11 and its justifications for the Iraq War.

Cutler says he viewed Cheney "less from the perspective of his only having been out of office for the length of a presidential term and more the way we suspect history will look at his time, both in office and his life and career."

As for what surprised him during his preparation and days of conversations with Cheney and others, Cutler says, "It's my approach as a filmmaker always to go in, not with a thesis or preconceived notion, but with curiosity and questions and inquiry. So in some way, I'm always surprised. I'm always finding paths of engagement.

"I was certainly struck by the manner in which he discussed the choice between duty and honor and the way in which he described duty as trumping honor without question in his mind, specifically when he is talking about what it called enhanced interrogation techniques.

"The fact that he didn't seem to think that the question of acting with honor should enter into the equation and was rather dismissive of it - there are a number of other things that certainly struck me. I include them in the film, because I want the audience to be struck and compelled by them in the same way I was."

Cheney looms as an ominous figure in the imaginations of his political and philosophical foes.
Regarding that, Perino writes, "I suppose it's because they disagreed with his views and instead of having a disagreement, they had to decide that he must be evil. That's a major problem in politics today - people don't just question the policy views of someone; they question their integrity and motivations."

One other reason Cheney's opponents may seek to cast him a dark light is that, unlike most vice presidents, he was a central player rather than a bystander.

Says Cutler, "Cheney refers to his vice presidency ... as one of the most consequential vice presidencies in American history. And it clearly was."
Photo/Video credit: Showtime