Review: Engrossing 'No Man of God' explores Ted Bundy's final days
Courtesy of RLJE Films
Between Neflix’s “Bundy Tapes,” Zac Efron’s “Extremely Wicked, Shockingly Evil and Vile” and “Ted Bundy: American Boogeyman” featuring Chad Michael Murray, it would seem we’re obsessed with narcissistic rapist and murderer, Ted Bundy. Such thoughts festered in my brain at the start of “No Man of God,” Amber Sealey’s newest stab at the infamous criminal, but her take is more grounded and doesn’t try to sugarcoat a lifestyle steeped in death and the still unsolved murders of over 30 women during Bundy’s reign. There’s a confidence in “No Man of God” that was missing in Efron’s vehicle and proves an actor with the correct mindset and determination can shoulder the role, even if it's been revamped a few too many times.
“No Man of God” is a dramatization of Bundy’s final months before getting the electric chair where he sat down with FBI profiler Bill Hagmaier (Elijah Wood - his best performance in years) and essentially spilled his guts and, to a lesser extent, the gory details of his crimes. Here Bundy is played by Luke Kirby, best known for “The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel,” with a serrated, compelling edge. It’s a game of chess between Wood and Kirby, moving their pieces across the board trying to outshine the other, but “No Man of God” lets both excel. Kirt Lesser’s screenplay isn’t showy (though some performances certainly go the extra mile), but most of “No Man of God” is a decent two-hander with solid performers operating at maximum efficiency.
Although the film bobs and weaves during longer conversational set pieces, seeing Woods and Kirby play off the other and dissect a man who embraced his media coverage and played to the crowd is a winner. Kirby tows the line between sympathetic and looney, showcasing how easy it was for him to manipulate the room (Bundy almost had a law degree before he was eventually caught after massive oversight by dimwitted investigators). On the other hand, Woods takes everything Kirby gives him, absorbing and projecting it on screen. His Hagmaier is a family man caught in the enviable position of trying to secure Bundy’s cooperation with the hope of stopping future serial killers. He’s the Clarice to Kirby’s Hannibal Lector.
“No Man of God” doesn’t waste time exploring the myths and tales surrounding Bundy’s personality, but offers the view of a man staring down the barrel of his own awakening. And to Kirby’s credit, he doesn’t humanize the killer (though he comes very close). Some might squawk at two characters sitting around a table, talking about their life experiences (“No Man of God” would make a solid live theatrical adaptation), but Sealey’s film gains momentum in the latter half when Bundy’s execution is ordered by the state, and it becomes a mad dash on whether he’ll confess or keep playing tricky mind games. At this point, we’re already hooked on the story and despite knowing the inevitable outcome, the exploration of Bundy’s depraved, twisted mind offers a new, fascinating glimpse behind the murderer. Let’s also hope it might be the last.
NO MAN OF GOD debuts in theaters and on demand/digital Friday, August 27th