No Man of God, 2021.
Directed by Amber Sealey.
Starring Elijah Wood, Luke Kirby, Aleksa Palladino, Robert Patrick, W. Earl Brown, and Christian Clemenson.
In the final years before his execution, America’s most notorious serial killer Ted Bundy forms a complicated relationship with an FBI profiler.
With dramatisations of real-life serial killers and true crime documentaries being extremely popular with streaming services and TV production companies right now the idea of another account of Ted Bundy and his crimes might feel like one too many, seeing that Bundy tends to be the poster boy for the current crop of shows and movies devoted to killers, some of whom committed their crimes within our lifetimes, which may be one of the factors that make watching their stories so fascinating.
No Man of God, however, takes a slightly different approach than your standard re-enactment by focusing on Bundy’s conversations with FBI analyst Bill Hagmaier (Elijah Wood), a rookie agent who was sent in to speak to Bundy (Luke Kirby) to try and get a grasp on why serial killers do what they do, see what patterns and similarities emerged between different cases, etc. Oh, and while you’re there if you could get a confession out of him that would be great.
So what we have here is something similar to those ‘quid pro quo’ moments in The Silence of the Lambs, where Hannibal Lector will only share information in exchange for Clarice Starling telling him things about herself. In this movie we have Ted Bundy refusing to speak to the FBI until Hagmaier shows up, which he does under the guise of trying to learn new techniques of profiling serial killers but he ends up gently breaking down Bundy’s defences, although Bundy isn’t going to reveal his secrets that easily, forcing the cat-and-mouse relationship to blossom over several years until Bundy’s eventual execution in 1989.
Eschewing the violence that comes with the territory when going over true-life serial killers and their cases, No Man of God is a tense and dramatic slow burner that grips you from the moment it begins and keeps a consistently ominous tone that, come the third act and Bundy’s realisation that the game is up and he is going to be executed, lifts a movie that is essentially two people talking into a much deeper character study. Elijah Wood and Luke Kirby are magnetic as the two men who keep dancing around each other, both knowing what is eventually going to happen but, in the case of Hagmaier, not wanting to accept that outcome without some sort of payoff for what he believes to be an essential part of his job. In fact, if your only knowledge of Ted Bundy was a picture on a Wikipedia page or an old TV clip on YouTube then you could be forgiven for thinking that you were watching the man himself, such is the conviction of Luke Kirby’s performance.
Coming backed with interviews with actors Elijah Wood, Luke Kirby and Aleksa Palladino, and housed in a rigid slipcase with exclusive art cards, this Blu-ray edition of No Man of God feels a little light on extras, given that some Ted Bundy-related material may have been beneficial for a comparison but the movie itself is an engrossing one that looks fantastic – the 1980s set pieces are all convincing and neatly spliced with real news footage from the time – and treats the material with respect, never glamorising or sensationalising the crimes of Ted Bundy or bigging up the FBI in their efforts to obtain information from him but simply laying out the conversations between two men approaching the same goal but from different sides of the divide, and when it is handled this expertly it is simply mesmerising. Yes, it may not have the cinematic spectacle of The Silence of the Lambs or go as deep into the psychology of it all like Mindhunter – you can only cram so much into one movie – but No Man of God is as pure a true crime movie as it is possible to get, focusing on strong performances and intelligent writing rather than going for the throat, as so many movies of this ilk are wont to do just to get a cheap thrill.
Flickering Myth Rating – Film: ★ ★ ★/ Movie: ★ ★ ★ ★