Whether you think former Vice President Dick Cheney is a patriot or the Penguin, there's probably one word you've never associated him with: sympathetic.

You may have to change your perceptions after watching "The World According to Dick Cheney," a surprisingly moving documentary in which director R.J. Cutler ("The War Room") manages to present this polarizing politician as the loneliest man on Earth.

The usually guarded Cheney shares the Shakespearean tale of his unlikely rise to become the most powerful vice president in U.S. history — and how it all came crashing down after his decisions to support waterboarding, to keep President George W. Bush out of the loop when he chose to defy the attorney general's office and to stand behind his onetime mentor Donald Rumsfeld, even when the defense secretary was the equivalent of political dynamite.

The filmmakers also interview Rumsfeld, Cheney's former chief of staff David Addington and several Beltway journalists, but it's Cheney who is the most revealing, especially when he reflects on his last year in office, when the president all but locked him in the doghouse.

Critics of the veep may not come away wanting to throw Cheney a pity party, but they ought to feel a twinge of emotion as we see him fly-fishing off his motorboat, exiled from the powerful realm he helped create. □

The world according to dick cheney

⋆⋆⋆⋆ out of four stars

When: 8 p.m. Fri.

Where: Showtime