By: Amanda Guarragi
There has always been a fascination with lost tapes and uncovering the truth. Journalists have dedicated their lives to delivering the truth to the masses and their work should not go unnoticed. They do put their lives on the line at times because of the story some choose to cover. Depending on the sector of journalism you are interested in, some difficult decisions need to be made. Director Dan Mirvish takes his audience back to 1974 when a White House transcriber is thrust into the Watergate scandal when she obtains the only copy of the infamous 18½ minute gap in Nixon’s tapes. There have been many films that highlight this era for journalists, but Mirvish takes on a different lens.
The story is centred on Connie (Willa Fitzgerald) who has access to the 18½ minutes of the Nixon tapes. She meets with this journalist Paul (John Magaro) who works for the New York Times and they plan on listening to the tapes together. At first, Connie is apprehensive because she could get indicted for sharing the times, while he is praised for breaking the story. Mirvish places Connie at the centre because it’s her story and the camerawork reflects that. There’s this cool, old-school style of filmmaking that sets the tone for the entire film. It feels authentic to the era and will surprise many to see how this story unfolds. This is a fictional take on what happened to the tapes and the results are quite funny. There’s almost a crossing of genres that works in the third act as Mirvish goes from a political thriller to horror, with one knock on the door.
The way the film is structured keeps the audience engaged because the characters are simply waiting to listen to these tapes. Some obstacles occur and people that they meet obscurely take up the runtime of the film. And since the infamous tape is 18½ minutes, the last half hour of this film is quite entertaining. There are great comedic beats in the middle with Connie and Paul when they meet another couple, Lena (Catherine Curtin) and Samuel (Vondie Curtis-Hall). Lena and Samuel are suspicious of Connie and Paul as the newlyweds who have come to their apartment complex and take an interest in their lives. Even though the dinner party takes up the majority of the second half of this film, what happens after with these four characters pays off.
18½ has an interesting perspective on an event that never quite made sense, to begin with. So for Mirvish to create these characters and write this story with Daniel Moya was clever. Some may not understand the point of the ending, but it comes down to journalistic integrity and the determination to do what’s right. The switch in tone in the third act and the chemistry between Vondie Curtis-Hall, Curtin, Fitzgerald, and Magaro carried it to a very twisted ending. It does have a slow start, but the runtime and the structure of this story fit so well with the fictionalized history of the gap in the Nixon tapes. It’s bold, funny, and a wild time in the end.