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‘18½’ Review: Watergate, Through a Fog

‘18½’ Review: Watergate, Through a Fog

On June 20, 1972, three days after the arrests at the Watergate offices, President Richard Nixon held a meeting with his then chief of staff, H.R. Haldeman. Nixon recorded his meetings, and the recording from that day became infamous when the White House informed federal judges that an 18 ½ minute tape had been erased. In the fictionalized and foggy political thriller “18 ½,” a typist in the Nixon White House, Connie (Willa Fitzgerald), discovers a rerecording of the missing tape, and she attempts to ferry the recording to a reporter, Paul (John Magaro).

Concerned for her career, Connie insists Paul remain with her when he listens to the tape. It’s a plot contrivance that sends the characters through a heady maze of 1970s stereotypes as they pursue both a reel-to-reel tape player and privacy to listen. They’re directed by a group of hippie types to a motel, where they masquerade as a couple to convince the fast-talking manager, Jack (Richard Kind), to book a room. The pair then track down a tape player through their bossa nova-playing neighbors, a swinging couple who take a greater interest in Connie and Paul than the two might have hoped.

The director, Dan Mirvish, makes visual references to ‘70s thrillers like “The Conversation,” which used long-distance zooms to suggest the era’s paranoia. But this isn’t quite a reverent recreation of past glories. The light seems to blur the image, leaving the film’s period appropriate wood paneling and flannel details in a haze. This cloudy cinematography, along with the taste for period kitsch, give the impression of a stoner’s memory of ‘70s cinema. The film’s referential pleasures feel insubstantial, diminished by the direct comparison to more meaningful works of the period.

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Rated PG-13 for brief violence and sexual content. Running time: 1 hour 28 minutes. In theaters.

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