The eighteen and a half missing minutes from the Watergate tapes are the subject of many conspiracy theories and after all these years, this mystery of what President Richard Nixon had his secretary Rose Mary Woods delete is still often discussed at length.
Dan Mirvish explores the mystery of the biggest political scandal in history through 18½, an engaging, quick-paced, and wonderfully comedic thriller.
Captivating and Engaging Historical Fiction
18½ follows White House transcriber Connie Lashley (Willa Fitzgerald) as she listens to her last OMB (U.S. Office of Management and Budget) tape of the day. Her coworkers express concern that Connie works too much, but staying at work a little late leads to a huge discovery.
As the OMB meeting ends, new voices enter the conference room–which is fitted with its own automatic recording system. Nixon (Bruce Campbell) and Haig (Ted Raimi) begin to play the deleted tape in this meeting room, which leads to Connie being in possession of the only copy of the deleted eighteen and a half minutes.
18½ crafts a great hypothetical story, exploring one way in which this tape could have been discovered and what this could mean.
Connie meets with The New York Times reporter Paul Marrow (John Magaro) and upon their first conversation, we are treated to a wonderful back and forth with the quick dialogue and banter reminiscent of the classic screwball comedy.
18½ creates a fully realized world where this political scandal is examined while maintaining its focus on creating fully developed characters and exploring their own story.
18½ is about the missing eighteen and a half minutes, but this is perfectly balanced with the small-scale story of Connie and Paul trying to keep the tape safe until they can listen to it together.
Blend of Comedic and Thriller Tones
18½ is a captivating and engaging film that explores both the comedic and tense aspects of its story. Watching Connie and Paul craft new identities and try to find quiet and solitude in the midst of chaotic characters and situations.
When Connie and Paul decide they must listen to the tape together, they book a room at a nearby hotel, which has a dreary and claustrophobic feeling, even with the wide-open waters and fellow hotel guests.
Throughout the film, Connie and Paul find themselves in funny and absurd situations with a couple in the cottage next door Samuel (Vondie Curtis-Hall) and Lena (Catherine Curtin), a group of hippies seemingly led by Barry (Sullivan Jones), and the hotel’s somewhat oblivious owner Jack (Richard Kind.)
But even during the funniest moments, there is a sense of paranoia and dread. 18½ wonderfully captures the tension of not knowing who might be listening to your conversations. The camera creates space between Connie, Paul, and the people around them, expanding the wide-open spaces of the beach and the length of hallways, creating a feeling of being watched.
The film’s final moment brings everything together in a dynamic and engaging scene that flows perfectly while utilizing the chaotic power of sound. The use of the tape within the film creates a lively atmosphere, creating an engaging and memorable experience.
Capturing the Time Period
18½ crafts a beautiful and authentic visual style. The 1970s setting is brought to life through wonderful production design, cinematography, and costume design.
The time period comes through with charm and authenticity while feeling lived-in, especially combined with the spectacular performances. Fitzgerald and Magaro work perfectly alongside each other and their performances bring the setting more into focus. Both Fitzgerald and Magaro feel at one with the film’s world, creating a wonderfully cohesive experience that feels like you’re watching a film made in the 70s.
Production designer Monica Dabrowski does beautiful work, making this 1970s world come to life through even the tiniest of details throughout every location.
When we first see the hotel where Connie and Paul are going to stay, there is a clear understanding of the time period. There is something beautiful but haunting about hotels during the offseason. The film wonderfully captures this languid feeling of unease, making the moments of paranoia that much stronger.
Costume designer Sarah Cogan captures the 1970s, highlighting the differences between characters and the subcultures in which they find themselves. The costumes perfectly reflect the character and realistically reflect what these different people would have gravitated in terms of 1970s fashion. So often with period films, everyone is dressed in a similar style that would only reflect one aspect of the culture. Cogan’s costume work captures the nuance of what clothes reflect about character and personality.
Performance and Chemistry
18½ is filled to the brim with memorable performances. Fitzgerald plays Connie with a natural intensity that is heightened during her most headstrong moments. Connie stands her ground, even when those around her try to change her mind for their own advantage.
Magaro brings the awkward and flustered aspect of his reporter character through in subtle moments, showing Paul’s attempts at hiding how paranoid and flustered he really is.
The chemistry between Fitzgerald and Magaro is palpable and their dynamic leaves the audience entranced in all of their scenes together.
18½ is a film focusing on the eighteen and a half minutes of the Watergate tapes, so there is pressure for the film to live up to when we hear this often-discussed tape. And 18½ exceeds these expectations with strong vocal performances that work together to create exceptionally memorable moments.
18½ is a unique version of a political thriller, exploring characters through zany moments of comedy and tense moments of paranoia. 18½ might not be what people expect from a film such as this, but this unpredictability makes it more engaging and exciting.
Are you interested in the missing eighteen and a half minutes of the Watergate tapes? Are you excited to see this topic explored in a historical fiction film? Share your thoughts in the comments.
18½ releases May 27th in LA & NY, expands June 3rd, and released on VOD July 5th
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