No Man of God, 2021.
Directed by Amber Sealey.
Starring Luke Kirby, Elijah Wood, Aleksa Palladino, Robert Patrick, W. Earl Brown, and Christian Clemenson.
The complicated relationship that formed between the FBI analyst Bill Hagmaier and serial killer Bundy during Bundy’s final years on death row.
It should be said right off the bat that No Man of God is able to separate itself from most other Ted Bundy movies out there, including the recent biopic treatment starring Zac Efron that Netflix acquired. This is mostly accomplished by the fact that director Amber Sealey (using a script from Kit Lesser) wisely hones in on a small window of Ted Bundy’s life (his final years looked away) without framing him at the center of the story. That honor goes to Elijah Wood playing real-life FBI psychoanalyst Bill Hagmaier (who would go on to become one of the most successful and revered criminal profilers in history) taking on the duties of interviewing the notorious Ted Bundy with hopes of understanding his depraved mind.
The task is viewed as a fool’s errand by Bill’s peers and superior (Robert Patrick), told that all Ted Bundy will do is toy with him into thinking that he is on the cusp of a breakthrough only to go in circles and lie some more. Nevertheless, Bill remains optimistic because his game plan is to treat Ted Bundy like a human being without trying to outsmart him or make a move for publicity. Of course, there’s also the mental health concerns of what it can do to someone psychologically just from being around someone as masterfully manipulative and frighteningly charismatic as Ted Bundy; it’s an aspect of filmmakers incorporate with scenes of Bill driving around possibly staring at women with dark thoughts.
While it should be clear to most people that Bill never went down the same path, the scenes are appropriately uncomfortable distractions bouncing off the startling idea that in many ways he is similar to Ted. It’s conveyed through Elijah Wood’s facial expressions and wide eyes, as he tries to get thoughts on everything from other cases to the root of what causes this aberrant violence against women. With that said, Luke Kirby is equally impressive (arguably more so, easily delivering the best performance of his career so far and potentially something worth looking back on at the end of the year), capturing both the handsome charm and disturbed state of mind. There’s an aura of darkness surrounding just about everything he says, as it’s often suffocatingly claustrophobic watching these two interact in the same small space even though it’s safe.
Much of the first half of No Man of God depicts various interview sessions between Bill and Ted, with each of them getting inside the others head more as they recount stories from their past. Admittedly, there’s not much here that’s necessarily new when it comes to cinematic depictions of Ted Bundy, but as an actor’s showcase between Elijah Wood and Luke Kirby it’s usually gripping. Eventually, the film shifts gears as Ted Bundy is ordered to receive the electric chair within seven days, meaning that the rest of the story transitions into political games and buying more time. It’s less effective than watching the actors verbally trade psychological blows, but there is an uneasy compelling theme in the general public buying merchandise and turning his public execution into a cause for rowdy celebration.
No one is going to feel bad over the execution of Ted Bundy, but No Man of God does come around to thoughtful dialogue on murder even if it might go a bit too far trying to paint certain dynamics as similar. The only glaring issue is that there are a few melodramatic sequences (including one where Ted explains his mental process and planting for his crimes in raw detail) that break free from the otherwise restrained approach to this material. Despite the somewhat wonky construction of both halves and oversaturation of anything involving serial killers, No Man of God is worth a look for the central performances alone.
Flickering Myth Rating – Film: ★ ★ ★ / Movie: ★ ★ ★
Robert Kojder is a member of the Chicago Film Critics Association and the Critics Choice Association. He is also the Flickering Myth Reviews Editor. Check here for new reviews, follow my Twitter or Letterboxd, or email me at MetalGearSolid719@gmail.com