In 1974, a White House transcriber is thrust into the depths of the Watergate scandal when she obtains the only copy of the infamous 18½-minute gap in Nixon’s tapes. Dan Mirvish’s so-titled 18½ is a chaotic ride, to say the least, a long-and-winding story that takes us to many different locations, introduces us to many different faces, but also feels like it’s trying to be too many movies at once.

Courtesy of 101 Films

This, unfortunately, makes 18½ an at-times laborious viewing experience, feeling too long despite the relatively tight 90-minute runtime.
The film’s foremost issue is its script, which takes far too long to get going – although a slow-burn story can be incredible, it still needs to have something happening to keep the viewer entertained along the way. This is only screenwriter Daniel Moya’s second feature (his first being horror-thriller Killer Kate) so he is most likely still developing his voice but, while his script here isn’t awful, it certainly feels like a rough first draft; scenes are disjointed and some lines of dialogue are damningly clumsy. However, there are also moments scattered throughout where the film shines. It’s these enthralling nuggets of greatness that make Mirvish and Moya’s feature worth watching.

But what really keeps this movie afloat are the lead performances from Willa Fitzgerald and John Magaro, who work absolute magic off one another. The legendary Bruce Campbell is also phenomenal as the voice of President Richard Nixon, joined by the equally great Ted Raimi as the voice of General Al Haig. Likewise, Elle Schneider’s striking cinematography lends 18½ a distinct and period-appropriate image, helped along by a musical score from Luis Guerra. The film’s various technical elements are brilliantly executed, coming together in one remarkably fine-looking picture.

18½ is, still, a frustrating film. There are some tedious stretches that drag it down tremendously, just as there are some great scenes (especially in the third act) that revive it suddenly. All in all, give this movie a watch; even the non-history and politics buffs will find at least a couple of things to enjoy about the film. In any case, this reviewer eagerly looks forward to seeing what Dan Mirvish and screenwriter Daniel Moya tackle next.

18½ releases in the UK from July 11th.