NO MAN OF GOD
Reviewed for Shockya.com & BigAppleReviews.net linked from Rotten Tomatoes by: Harvey Karten
Director: Amber Sealey
Writer: Kit Lesser
Cast: Elijah Wood, Luke Kirby, Aleksa Palladino, Robert Patrick, Christian Clemenson, W. Earl Brown, Gilbert Owur
Screened: Critics’ Link 7/27/21
Opens: August 27, 2021
Take a look at the people who got up early on the morning of an execution or who may have stayed up all night, yelling for the death of Bundy. Picket signs read “Burn, Bundy, Burn,” “Buckle Up, Bundy,” and the cleverest, “Have a Seat, Ted.” So about these yahoos outside the Florida Prison where Bundy is to be killed by the electric chair who are the kinds of people you might see on January 6, 2021 “taking back our country.” Do you think they are interested in justice? Calling Bundy out for the string of thirty-odd murders performed one by one in several states, sticking up for women and at least one child killed by this sociopath? Hardly. They’re looking for blood. They love violence. There may not be much difference between Bundy and the crowd, except that the petitioners outside have been able to control their violent urges (with some exceptions) while Ted Bundy, presumably one of the most intelligent murderers of the last century, simply could not.
Which brings us to perhaps the central issue raised in what is largely a two-hander, character-driven, theatrical movie, one that could be performed on an off-Broadway theater shorn of more the commercial melodrama throughout. The issue is something like what we discussed in college dorms way back, sophomoric though it may be: Do you think you could kill? C. Robert Cargill who penned the script thinks so and doubtless Amber Sealy who directs agrees.
Sealy, the British born, New Mexico raised director, whose short “How Does it Start” is a coming-of-age comedy far removed from the subject here, sets up Agent Bill Hagmaier (Elijah Wood) as an interviewer with the newly established National Center for the Analysis of Violent Crime, and Ted Bundy (Luke Kirby) as the manipulative serial killer. (This is based on a true story.) The five-member team’s objective is to study serial killers to discover why they commit murder. By the time the film concludes, I do not think they came up with anything more than psychopathology. You may get the impression that Wood and Kirby are competing for Best Actor, with Wood’s playing a sensitive young religious guy who prays each morning and Kirby as a narcissistic individual toying with the agent. If you like melodramatic performance, Kirby would be your man. If you like the watching the sensitive fellow that feminists say they want, it’s Wood. You may also wonder if Elijah Wood is still a preppy with his big blue eyes and features that could make you think that the forty-year-old performer has aged maybe ten years since he was Frodo Baggins.
The first interview between agent and killer is in some ways the best. We get to see how manipulative Bundy is, and how you can imagine that this man who was close to graduating from law school could serve as his own attorney. He professes his hatred of federal agents. He speaks through his fingers, which cover part of his face when he talks, so you can see that he is sizing Hagmaier up. When Hagmaier suggests that they continue to confer as the weeks roll by toward Bundy’s execution, we may wonder whether the man is playing cat-and-mouse like a woman who after a first date will “think about it” when you ask to see her again. The key question to the agent: could you see yourself ever killing another person? The religious Hagmaier pauses, thinks, and gives Bundy the answer.
Expanding the characters, Carolyn Lieberman (Aleksa Palladino) as Bundy’s lawyer would probably be asked why she is even defending this woman-hater, to which she would reply that she is against capital punishment. The prison warden (W. Earl Brown) envies Hagmaier’s ability to gain the trust of a man who hates the feds. Roger Depue (Robert Patrick) is impressed by his agent’s progress and honors the agent’s request not to see the photos of the mutilated women.
This movie is your ticket if you do not need yet another picture depicting Ted Bundy’s crimes as do “The Deliberate Stranger,” “The Stranger Beside Me,” “Bundy, a Legacy of Evil,” “The Capture of the Green River Killer,” and others, as “No Man of God” carves out new territory. You may know Luke Kirby, a striking look-alike with Bundy from his role as Lenny Bruce (treated as a criminal until he wasn’t). His performance here is a treat as is the film.
112 minutes. © 2021 by Harvey Karten, Member, New York Film Critics Online
Story – B+
Acting – A-
Technical – B+
Overall – B+