It's been 50 years since Watergate, one of the biggest political scandals in history, sent shockwaves around the world, and there's been a fair few Watergate films over the years including most notably All the President's Men. Director Dan Mirvish delivers a fresh new take with his film 18½. Within President Nixon's tapes, there is an eighteen-and-a-half-minute gap in the record, which is where the film gets its name from, and it begs the question of what if somebody managed to get hold of the only copy of the tape and could hear what was in the 18½ minute gap?
18½ is a historical fiction film in which Connie Lashley (Willa Fitzgerald), a low-level government stenographer obtains a tape of President Richard Nixon (voiced by Bruce Campbell) listening to and erasing the 18½ minute gap. Connie plans to meet with reporter Paul (John Magaro) to leak the tape. The two meet at a diner and shortly move to a motel to listen to the tape and a comedy of errors ensues. The two encounter an eclectic mix of quirky characters who may well be spying on Paul and Connie and trying to get the tape, or they might just be weirdos. Either way, Connie and Paul's paranoia heightens as they try to track down a tape player.
18½ shouldn't work at all and yet somehow Mirvish manages to bring everything to create a delightfully entertaining film. The only way to truly accurately describe the film is to say it's chaotic but it's chaotic in the best possible way. 18½ is an espionage film about the Watergate scandal, but it's also a comedy, and a drama, and a thriller all at the same time.
At every single turn Connie and Paul seem to be hindered from finally being able to listen to what's on the tape. Richard Kind's Jack is particularly memorable as the eyepatch wearing motel clerk, infusing a great deal of humour and energy into the film and yet we never truly know whether he's a cause for suspicion or not. Is he acting weird because he knows what Connie and Paul are up to and wants the tape himself or is he just a strange guy? The same questions can be asked about the hippies that are obsessed with a conspiracy about white bread. Or the married couple that invite them in for a dance and a steak dinner.
There's so much going on in 18½ and it moves along at a very fast pace but it's a thoroughly engaging watch. It's fun and it's thrilling but importantly it feels fresh and inventive. The film has a fairly simple set-up with the two leads just trying to find a tape player and a moment of peace to listen to the recording but they're blocked at every turn. Fitzgerald and Magaro have great chemistry and are able to move the film along nicely. Even when Mirvish resorts to long takes with slow camera zooms and pans, the two of them manage to hold their strong, committed performances keeping you captivated.
18½ is a sharp, slick film that manages to mix the historical events of the Watergate Scandal with fiction. None of the main characters existed in real life, nor does anyone know what was on the eighteen-and-a-half-minute gap but 18½ is an exciting film that blends elements of comedy with thriller, espionage and drama expertly to create a really engaging film.
18½ is available now on digital platforms.