Tribeca 2024 Review: MCVEIGH, The Dark Side of Man

Directed by Mike Ott, the film stars Alfie Allen, Brett Gelman, Ashley Benson, Anthony Carrigan, and Tracy Letts.

Contributing Writer
Tribeca 2024 Review: MCVEIGH, The Dark Side of Man

A car is pulled over by a cop on a rural road. The driver (Alfie Allen) is rigid but keeps casting brief looks at his glove compartment. When asked where he is headed, the man named Timothy McVeigh replies unpassionately that he is going to Oklahoma.

As implied by its title, Mike Ott’s McVeigh is an austere account of the preparations for the 1995 bombing of the Alfred P. Murrah Federal Building in Oklahoma City. This is not a thriller in a traditional sense, nor is it an actual character study drama that would explore motivations or the intricacies of a psychological state. Instead, this is a story about the banality of evil – or, to be more precise, about how the evil can be born out of the banality of things.

In Ott’s version, McVeigh’s plan in formed in the midst of his routine life. He sells some bumper stickers at guns and ammo conventions and hangs out with his buddy Terry (Brett Gelman), who talks a big game but starts to visibly lose his cool when it comes to buying suspicious amounts of fertilizer.

At a shooting range, McVeigh catches the eye of Cindy (Ashley Benson), whom he later encounters at a diner and starts going out with. He also visits his pal, white supremacist Richard Snell (Tracey Letts) who is awaiting execution in prison. The date is set for the Patriots' Day, and Snell doesn’t believe it’s a coincidence. McVeigh also seems to see it as a sort of an invitation to some action. Somewhere in the midst of all this, the idea of what will become a great tragedy is rooted.

The authors are actually very particular in not trying to pinpoint the exact moment this happens. It’s just there, slowly taking an uncertain form in the middle of the mundane details and micro-aggressions.

There are few pointed words from Snell here and there. A Tyler Durden sort of character named Frédéric (Anthony Carrigan), who approaches McVeigh and is decidedly uncharismatic and prosaic with his incentives. There is the constant chirping of the TV or radio on the background, with stories about the Waco siege that seem to distress McVeigh to some degree. “Seem” would be the operative word here, as both Ott and Alfie Allen maintain a very purposeful distance between us and the titular character at all times. 

Shot majorly in such detached manner that even closeups don't bring us closer to fully understanding its protagonist, McVeigh is conditioned to be a devising movie on two accounts. First, some might find a certain fault with its execution. Even though the film is filled with brewing, ominous tension, Mike Ott follows in Gus Van Sant’s footsteps with Elephant, giving us a slow, almost meditative immersion into senseless malice, a tactic that is surely not for everyone.

The second thing concerns the subject itself. Popular culture is brimming with exploration of villains, both fictional and real. An obvious question pops up in cases like this: do we really need another one of those – another study of the variety of evil? The answer stems from real life though, clearly suggesting that yes, we probably do.

The film screened as a world premiere at the 2024 Tribeca Festival

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Alfie AllenAnthony CarriganAshley BensonBrett GelmanMike OttTracy LettsTribeca 2024Tribeca Festival

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