At this point, the only reason to dive into the world of Ted Bundy again would be if a filmmaker had discovered a more interesting way of tackling the subject than recent documentaries or the surprisingly solid Zac Efron-starring feature film Extremely Wicked, Shockingly Evil and Vile. For those who aren’t burned out on Bundy, the good news is that director Amber Sealy (No Light; No Land Anywhere) and screenwriter Kit Lesser have a unique and intriguing angle from which to approach the charming serial killer who murdered somewhere in the neighborhood of 30 girls and women in four states.
No Man of God is actually told from the perspective of FBI Agent and groundbreaking researcher in the field of criminal profiling Bill Hagmaier (played with beautifully precise nuance by Elijah Wood) who was part of a Bureau team interviewing serial killers in the hopes of putting together a cohesive study on what made them tick—from their upbringing to their methods and state of mind before and during their gruesome deeds. Bundy (Luke Kirby) was notoriously known for not talking to journalists or criminal investigators, and if he did talk to them, he would string them along, seemingly for his own amusement, giving them absolutely nothing and never even admitting to his own crimes. But when Hagmaier walked into his life in a Florida jail, he somehow convinced Bundy that he was simply there in the name of science and wanted to pick his clearly intelligent brain for ideas that Bundy had formulated himself about the serial killer profile. It turns out Bundy was investigating other serial killers from jail, and had come up with a theory or two that no one really wanted to hear, but Hagmaier genuinely believed Bundy was not only onto something, but that he also was revealing details about his own profile in the process.
Whatever his motivation, Bundy trusted that Hagmaier was not only genuine but that he wasn’t interested in making a name for himself with a book or movie deal after Bundy was executed, which both men believed wouldn’t happen for many years down the road. Wood makes it clear in his performance that Hagmaier wasn’t good at his job because he could make them think he saw these killers as human beings; he genuinely believed it, despite also recognizing that these were dangerous people. Still, he gave them a willing and eager ear and an invitation to tell their story as completely as they could. He never asked Bundy about the location of his victims, but when Bundy made it known that he was ready to give details of his victims, he asked that his new friend coordinate the interviews with regional investigators.
Kirby is probably best known for playing Lenny Bruce on “The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel,” but his mannerisms, voice and sinister charm here convey such confidence that he thinks he will eventually talk his way out of jail. When the Florida orders his execution with only one week’s notice, his facade noticeably crumbles, leaving him rattled and eager to try any strategy he and his attorney Carolyn Lieberman (Aleksa Palladino) can come up with, including an ill-advised, time-consuming interview with minister and interviewer James Dobson (Christian Clemenson), whom Bundy believed had the ear of the governor and would recommend a stay of execution in exchange for a great interview. Bundy delivered said interview (including statements about the dangers of pornography that he did not actually subscribe to), and Dobson got the hell out of dodge with Bundy’s last interview and no intention of speaking to the Florida governor.
The way the dynamic between Bundy and Hagmaier shifts during the course of No Man of God is startling and stunningly depicted. It’s clear that listening to Bundy’s admissions or ideas about the nature of serial killers is changing the chemistry of Hagmaier’s brain, but his strong moral center keeps him upright (barely) during this process. Their relationship is complicated, yet I think it’s fair to say the two became friends, with Hagmaier doing what he could to keep Bundy from being killed so quickly, while bloodthirsty crowds outside the prison eagerly awaited the execution.
The film in no way glorifies Bundy or his heinous deeds, but it puts them into perspective by cautiously moving through his brain for clues as to what make him tick. Sometimes the key to Hagmaier’s methods are simply being able to see that very little separates himself and Bundy, despite certain triggering factors. It’s a fascinating journey that leads to a mad scramble, and it all culminates in a deeper understanding of a particular, warped mindset. It’s a terrifically acted movie, with a screenplay eager to allow the roots of this friendship/partnership to thrive and grow, with no danger of the audience rooting for Bundy to stay alive.
The film is now playing in select theaters and is available via VOD.
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