Thursday, June 13, 2024

“MCVEIGH”

THE STORY – Timothy McVeigh was the perpetrator of the single deadliest act of domestic terrorism in U.S. history — the Oklahoma City bombing. Over days and nights, McVeigh eats, sleeps, watches the news, meets a girl… all while inside his mind brews an unthinkable plan that will forever change the collective American psyche — one that he loops fellow conspirator Terry Nichols in on. An unexpected cast brings these characters to life with a stunningly subtle hand, and the film neither sensationalizes real life events nor gives into the quiet, devastating tension sustained from beginning to end.

THE CAST – Alfie Allen, Brett Gelman, Ashley Benson, Anthony Carrigan & Tracy Letts

THE TEAM – Mike Ott (Director/Writer) & Alex Gioulakis (Writer)

THE RUNNING TIME – 90 Minutes


Timothy McVeigh (Alfie Allen) is paranoid. He drives not with one eye on the road but with both staring daggers into his rearview mirror, noticing every car that passes by and reappears in the past; when one emerges and approaches the present, a murder of alarm bells goes off in his head. When he’s pulled over, he barely makes eye contact with the officer at the scene, focusing solely on his glove compartment. Inside lies his registration, sure, but he’s far more concerned with the gun he could easily access in “self-defense.” Yes, he was merely tagged for going 20 miles over the speed limit, but when plans of domestic terrorism occupy your mind, I suppose it’s hard not to be slightly jumpy.

Mike Ott’s “McVeigh,” a slow-burning thriller brimming with intensity despite a total lack of manifested violence, spends close to its entire runtime in this sort of icy haze as it churns toward the inevitable like a train methodically exiting the station. The true story of Timothy McVeigh is well-known, even if that name doesn’t ring a bell at first blush: A Gulf War veteran ridden with alt-right biases and post-traumatic hatred, McVeigh is the man who, aided by Terry Nichols (Brett Gelman) perpetrated the infamous Oklahoma City bombing.

We’ll start with the facts: On April 19, 1995, McVeigh’s plan came to fruition when a bomb inside a truck he had placed next to the Alfred P. Murrah Federal Building detonated, killing 168 people and injuring 680 more. The explosive, made from agricultural fertilizer, diesel fuel, and an assortment of other chemicals, destroyed and/or damaged over 300 buildings in downtown Oklahoma City. And it all unfolded due to McVeigh and his co-conspirator’s extremist hopes that murdering hundreds would make the federal government pay for how it handled the Waco siege that occurred one year before.

Although Ott’s film crawls toward its principal tragedy, it is much more of a psychological study of a bomber than a movie about a bombing. The bulk of its runtime is spent with and observing McVeigh, who Allen plays as a walking minefield, a man just waiting for someone to piss him off so that he can snap, nay, explode. He spends his evenings watching the news, pointing his firearm at the television set, just waiting for someone on CSPAN to spout federal facts that clash with his own ideology. During the day, he operates a stand at guns and ammo “festivals,” selling bumper stickers that offer the everyday supremacists’ answer to “Live, Laugh, Love.” “The day the government outlaws guns is the day I’ll be an outlaw,” one popular sticker reads.

“McVeigh,” like other films about sociopaths before it, knows the cards it’s been dealt and how to play them in a fashion that keeps its audience off balance. Similar to 2021’s “Nitram,” which featured Caleb Landry Jones as Martin Bryant, the gunman who killed 35 people and wounded 23 others in the deadliest massacre in modern Australian history, “McVeigh’s” central terrorist is empty and cold. He has a goal, one conjured in such madness that he’s willing to silently manipulate everyone in his path while neglecting humanity altogether.

But like many killers, McVeigh attempts to maintain a semblance of normality in his everyday activities. He strikes up a relationship with a woman played by Ashley Benson, only to banish her from his domain the moment his private intentions for the world are unearthed. He befriends a man named Frédéric (Anthony Carrigan) but abandons their bond the moment it becomes clear that Frédéric’s mysterious conspiratorial motives may not jive in lockstep with McVeigh’s. The one man he seems to be able to trust is Richard Snell (Tracy Letts), a white supremacist who was convicted of killing two people, a Black police officer and a pawn shop owner whom he believed was Jewish, and a fellow criminal in whom McVeigh can confide.

But McVeigh is a lone wolf, only seeking guidance from those he can identify with, and in Allen’s hands, he’s a “real fuckin’ soldier” who can snap into becoming a devilish force of nature just as quickly as he can pull a trigger at a firing range. His incapability of feeling anything but fury is as terrifying as it is raw. For Allen, it’s a career-making performance not despite its subtlety but directly due to it. Had the British actor’s best-known work not come in “Game of Thrones,” this turn may have landed with a thunder-clap of notoriety; if nothing else, it’s sure to introduce him to audiences far more keen on muted dramatic work, the likes of which you rarely see outside of the festival circuit.

That Ott elects to close “McVeigh” with a jarring edit of real-life news coverage of the bombing — one that bizarrely mimics a modern shitpost, a less-than-stolid gimmick that nearly upends everything the film was building toward — and not with McVeigh experiencing some sort of perceived “glory” in the aftermath of his crimes is only fitting (“Nitram,” unlike Gus Van Sant’s “Elephant,” a drama inspired by the Columbine school shooting, operates similarly, evading gruesome violence in favor of tension). It’s a confident conclusion for a film about distorted confidence, the kind that schemes in the shadows. Yet we must remember that the greatest trick the devil ever pulled was convincing the world he didn’t exist. That he does in abundance is assured; to tell his story in the form of “McVeigh” and not otherwise in a manner that doesn’t acknowledge his perpetual presence in our company would be as unjust as disregarding him altogether.

THE RECAP

THE GOOD - Alfie Allen delivers an eye-popping performance rooted in wickedness that rivals Caleb Landry Jones' turn in "Nitram" for some of the best, most subtle work to be showcased in a recent "true crime" drama.

THE BAD - A conclusion that rushes through its titular character's infamous crime in the style of a documentary's introduction, which feels completely amiss from the rest of the film's creeping temperament. That, and the presence of Brett Gelman.

THE OSCAR PROSPECTS - None

THE FINAL SCORE - 6/10

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<b>THE GOOD - </b>Alfie Allen delivers an eye-popping performance rooted in wickedness that rivals Caleb Landry Jones' turn in "Nitram" for some of the best, most subtle work to be showcased in a recent "true crime" drama.<br><br> <b>THE BAD - </b>A conclusion that rushes through its titular character's infamous crime in the style of a documentary's introduction, which feels completely amiss from the rest of the film's creeping temperament. That, and the presence of Brett Gelman.<br><br> <b>THE OSCAR PROSPECTS - </b>None<br><br> <b>THE FINAL SCORE - </b>6/10<br><br>"MCVEIGH"