I never got the obsession that folks have with Ted Bundy, or really any serial killers. Bundy has a weird added element of being the “hot” one. It’s all pretty dumb to me, frankly. I don’t listen to the podcasts or watch the true crime documentaries, making me somewhat agnostic to the whole thing So, I’ve long approached cinematic portrayals of Bundy from a fairly passive perspective. Plus, the recent film Extremely Wicked, Shockingly Evil and Vile was pretty meh, overall. That being said, the new movie No Man of God not only finds a way to make Bundy more of a compelling figure, it’s just a better piece of cinema. With a narrow focus and a clear-eyed perspective on the killer, something darker and more intriguing emerges.
No Man of God is at its best when the focus is on Bundy. Normally, I wouldn’t have expected that to be the case, as a less is more approach feels right. However, here we have such a curiosity about what’s going to happen next in the various conversations that our protagonist has with him, we’re chomping at the bit for more.
Taking place during the final portion of his stay on death row, the film chronicles the various conversations had between FBI analyst Bill Hagmaier (Elijah Wood) and serial killer Ted Bundy (Luke Kirby). When his boss Roger Depue (Robert Patrick) asks for volunteers to profile serial killers, Hagmaier is the only one willing to take on Bundy. Writing him a letter, the notoriously smart and suspicious inmate allows him to visit. Using the in of wanting him to help look into other killers, they begin probing each other. For Bundy, a friendship of sorts is beginning, someone he can talk to, as he dances around admitting to his obvious crimes. For Hagmaier, a window into a dark soul is emerging.
When the Governor of Florida signs Bundy’s death warrant, the clock begins ticking for Hagmaier to get a confession out of him. He’s long been trying to understand the man, but as the moments pass, it now becomes a race against time to find some measure of catharsis for the victims and their families. Of course, Bundy being Bundy, that may be easier said than done.
Luke Kirby gives the definitive Ted Bundy performance so far. Elijah Wood is good too, to be sure, but Kirby shines. While Wood is seen at home and away from the job, you only see Kirby’s Bundy as others see him. In a way, it’s the Hannibal Lecter approach. Wood makes his protagonist relatable and an audience surrogate, but Kirby suggests the terror of this man. It’s easily his best work to date. Supporting players, in addition to Robert Patrick, include Christian Clemenson, Gilbert Owuor, Aleksa Palladino, and more, but it’s all about Kirby and Wood here.
Director Amber Sealey and scribe Kit Lesser tackle this story in a really unique manner. You never see Ted Bundy commit a crime. You hear him talk about it, but that’s it. By making it theater of the mind, you can really imagine the worst. Lesser and Sealey are at their best when it’s just Bundy and Hagmaier going back and forth. A sequence towards the end is damn near haunting. However, some inserts meant to depict Hagmaier’s mental state after these conversations doesn’t work in the slightest. They distract from what does work, plain and simple, and that’s the verbal sparring.
No Man of God isn’t trying to be the definitive Ted Bundy story, but it’s a narrative film that’s able to capture an aspect of his appeal/terror. Those of you who are all-in for Bundy material will be thrilled by this. At the same time, if you’re like me and don’t go in for that sort of thing, this is still rather compelling. However you slice it, it’s just a good little movie that’s worth recommending.