NO MAN OF GOD
(director: Amber Sealey; screenwriter: Kit Lesser; cinematographer: Karina Silva; editor: Patrick Nelson Barnes; music: Clarice Jensen; cast: Elijah Wood(Bill Hagmaier), Luke Kirby (Ted Bundy), Robert Patrick (Roger Dupue), Aleksa Palladino (Aleksa Palladino), Allison Baver (Masha Tanner), Christian Clemenson (Dobson), W. Earl Brown (Warden Barton), Gilbert Owuor (Paul Decker); Runtime: 100; MPAA Rating:NR; producers; Daniel Noah/Kim Sherman/Lisa Whelan/Elijah Wood: RLJE Films; 2021)
“Even if a well-made and an authentic depiction of serial killer Bundy, it’s a cold film I had trouble making an emotional connection with despite some strong performances.”
Reviewed by Dennis Schwartz
The psychological crime drama screened at the 2021 Tribeca Film Festival. The drama is skillfully directed by the female filmmaker Amber Sealey(“How to Cheat”/”No Light and No Land Anywhere”), who wants to tell us more about serial killer Ted Bundy, supposedly one of the more intelligent criminals even if a monster, as if there’s more to know about him that matters. Even if a well-made and an authentic depiction of serial killer Bundy, it’s a cold film I had trouble making an emotional connection with despite some strong performances. It’s effectively written by Kit Lesser, who makes it into seeing the monster through the eyes of FBI agent questioning him in a cage in a Florida prison.
The dialogue is fictionalized but is based on the real-life court transcripts of Bundy’s trial.
The gist of the film fictionalizes a series of conversations held in the prison between Ted Bundy (Luke Kirby) and good guy FBI profiler Bill Hagmaier (Elijah Wood), with Sealey refusing to play up Bundy’s charisma or romanticize him, while showing him instead as someone with many mental problems who couldn’t be normal even if he wanted to. The interviews with Hagmaier took place between 1985 and 1989.
Hagmaier was a rookie in 1985, serving on the newly created FBI Behavioral Analysis division. After asking to interview Bundy, he builds a relationship with him by writing him letters and beginning a correspondence and by passing Bundy’s test to accept him. The film’s first half (the good half) is about the interviews between them, whereby the two opposites become closer. We learn the agent never asks about his crimes in his attempt to gain his trust, while Hagmaier’s outside life as a family man is briefly touched upon as well as his consultations with his boss Dupue (Robert Patrick).
We see the calm but creepy Bundy always try to show us how intelligent he is, and how he’s aware that the mild-mannered agent is trying hard to see what makes him tick. It results in a great acting performance by Kirby, trying to play off the sincere agent. With Hagmaier as a counterpoint to the more flashy killer, relentlessly staring at the evil one and trying to get him to open up about himself.
At about the halfway point the film picks up on the upcoming execution, and opens up to a few more visitors, like Aleksa Palladino, who plays Bundy’s fictionalized lawyer Carolyn Lieberman. But by doing this it loses some of its steam, until Bundy’s final ‘baring his soul’ monologue of giving the shocked agent all that he had been asking him to do.
Actual footage of Bundy and how the people on the outside reacted to him is used, as crowds gather by the prison to cheer the monster’s death.
Though nothing new is learned about Bundy, it’s a well-constructed and well-acted film. It gives us a true sense of what this monster was like in the final days before his execution, while on death row, as he forms an uneasy bond with the agent.
REVIEWED ON 6/23/2021 GRADE: B –