Film – 18½

In US cinemas this week, Steve Taylor-Bryant spent more than 18½ minutes watching the Watergate inspired comedy thriller 18½...

In 1974, a White House transcriber Connie Lashley (Willa Fitzgerald) comes across the infamous missing 18 ½ minutes that were the gap in the Richard Nixon tapes, which thrusts Connie and New York Times reporter Paul Marrow (John Magaro) right into the Watergate conspiracy. When meeting up at an Inn, Connie and Paul have to masquerade as a married couple to befriend a hippy and his partner, Samuel (Vondie Curtis Hall) and Lena (Catherine Curtin), in the hopes of borrowing their cassette player to listen to the President’s words as Connie’s doesn’t work.

I love this period of American history and consume any number of various media outputs that go into detail about Watergate, the Pentagon Papers, and the whole conspiracy set by Richard Milhous Nixon. Amongst the best examples of Watergate era storytelling are obviously anything that comes from the whistle-blower that started it all, Daniel Ellsberg, especially his book Secrets: A Memoir of Vietnam and the Pentagon Papers, and possibly the best political conspiracy film ever made, All the President's Men, the in depth look at how the press played a part in the downfall of a U.S. President. The 18½ minutes premise should easily put this Dan Mirvish directed film in the same conversation but, whilst I really enjoyed 18½, it has too many flaws to aspire to the greatness of the aforementioned legendary movie.

The performances of Willa Fitzgerald and John Magaro are great, straight played and serious but unfortunately the story veers too far into black comedy and satire for those performances to save it. I think it's because Vondie Curtis Hall and Catherine Curtin appear to be in a different movie, and not even a vastly underwritten and all too brief appearance by Richard Kind can take 18 ½ back into the territory it deserves to be in which is a real shame as there was a lot to love. The cinematography, the lighting, the costume, the sets and locations are all era perfect and set up a tone that really should have worked but the indecision in the writing between comedy and serious drama really should have been worked out in advance as 18½ is not truly either side of the coin.

18½ is a watchable enough film about a fascinating era of modern history that could have aspired to greatness but, for me, missed too many beats to know what it could truly achieve, which will disappoint history nuts but probably not bother average film goers. It's still worth seeing for the performances of Fitzgerald and Magaro and how beautifully it's shot but I can’t forgive how much of a state of disorder the tone became. A film with promise that unfortunately just ended up disappointing.

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Image - Ella Schneider/Waterbug Eater Films
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