Mike Ott’s McVeigh is an immersive, chilling, meticulously paced portrait of Timothy McVeigh, played by Alfie Allen, who embodies the bleak, quiet rage of the radicalized terrorist. Entering the story months before he carries out the deadliest attack of domestic terrorism in U.S. history, McVeigh is a loner who spends his days selling bumper stickers and books at gun shows and visiting with Richard Snell (Tracy Letts), a white supremacist on death row. Bothered by the political temperature of the era and Snell’s pending execution on the anniversary of the Waco Siege, McVeigh and Terry Nichols (Brett Gelman) start stockpiling weapons and planning an attack. The details of said attack are never mentioned. Ott and co-writer Alex Gioulakis instead meditate on the man’s psychology.

McVeigh is narratively sparse by design, making certain assumptions and taking liberties, such as the character of Cindy (Ashley Benson), a waitress who shares McVeigh’s interest in going down to the gun range. Through long takes that keep viewers at a physical and emotional distance, the filmmakers allow paranoia to slowly take hold as Allen’s McVeigh grows more isolated and committed to his mission, even as Nichols shows some resistance with a baby on the way.

With minimalist restraint until its closing montage (which should be re-edited or reconsidered before the next stop on the festival circuit), McVeigh does not get terribly bogged down in backstory, but rather is a haunting, timely film about a man hell-bent on a retribution inspired by Snell’s rhetoric––what would today be labeled “alt-right.” Still, the picture remains grounded in the political landscape of 1995 without offering a wider commentary on current events, and is bound to frustrate audiences much as Civil War did earlier this year.

If questioning who McVeigh is for, it could be viewed as a cautionary-tale-of-sorts even as the introverted McVeigh is not portrayed as a shut-in or an incel. Neither is it a sympathetic portrait of the man. There is a gripping power in its detached, observational approach towards a community radicalized by the Waco Seige––what they believe was a massacre committed by their own government.

Whereas Civil War documents, head-on, the hell of combat, the intentionally remote McVeigh is sometimes more akin to Alan Clarke’s legendary Elephant (and Gus Van Sant’s 2003 film of the same name). While Ott takes certain liberties with this story, the film largely retains a sense of dread until its final moments, which include a rapid-fire montage of the events that seems tonally out of place with the rest of the film. Sometimes less is more. 

McVeigh premiered at the 2024 Tribeca Festival.

Grade: B-

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