No Man of God

Review by Rich Cline | 3.5/5

No Man of God
dir Amber Sealey
scr Kit Lesser
prd Kim Sherman, Daniel Noah, Lisa Whalen, Elijah Wood
with Elijah Wood, Luke Kirby, Robert Patrick, Aleksa Palladino, Christian Clemenson, W Earl Brown, Gilbert Owuor, Hugo Armstrong, Nican Robinson, Will Harris, Emily Berry, Steven Pritchard
release US Jun.21 tff,
UK 13.Sep.21
21/US 1h40

wood kirby patrick
fright fest

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kirby and wood
Based on transcripts and firsthand reports, this well-made drama explores the early days of criminal profiling in the mid-1980s. It's a brainy, talky film, largely featuring conversations between a killer and a federal agent. This makes it feel like a stage play, spiced up with visual flourishes by director Amber Sealey. It's a darkly intriguing film, expertly assembled and performed, even if the subject matter is a bit well-worn.
One of the FBI's first profilers, Bill Hagmaier (Wood) volunteers to contact the unrepentant Ted Bundy (Kirby) on death row, hoping to learn about the mindset of a serial killer and perhaps find some closure for the victims' families. Ted is notoriously elusive, but is intrigued by Bill and begins discussing other cases. As they start to become friends, Bill's boss (Patrick) warns him to be careful. But as the case heats up, and a deadline for a confession approaches, Bill thinks he can get Ted to finally reveal details about his killing spree.
Opening with news reports about Bundy's 1989 execution, the film flickers back with period footage to establish a visual sensibility that feeds into the narrative. This is further echoed in visceral montage sequences that add a tactile tone. Then it's back to the conversations in which Ted and Bill cagily spar with each other, revealing and concealing details about themselves. The title refers to the disparity between their religious world views, which is one thing Bill can't understand.

The usual problem with movies about Bundy is that he's so engaging and well-spoken. Kirby is excellent in the role, filling scenes with all manner of details that convey his intelligence and charisma, along with an extremely subtle sense of danger. By contrast, Wood layers his straight-arrow cop with razor-sharp powers of observation, never seeming like he's leading Ted in any way but always nudging him forward to confront his crimes. Both actors are excellent, creating a powerful two-man show as everyone else faces into the background.

We surely didn't need another movie about how fascinating a prolific killer like Bundy could be. At least this one is rooted in the exact words that were spoken, and it also depicts the media obsession at the time, including Bundy's infamously manipulative TV interview with James Dobson (Clemenson) just before his execution. Through all of this, Bundy continually spins things, including confessing to murder, to make himself look like a victim. And that's what makes this film chilling.

cert 15 themes, language 26.Aug.21

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© 2021 by Rich Cline, Shadows on the Wall