Synopsis – In 1980, Ted Bundy was sentenced to death by electrocution. In the years that followed, he agreed to disclose the details of his crimes, but only to one man. NO MAN OF GOD is based on the true story of the strange and complicated relationship that developed between FBI agent Bill Hagmaier and an incarcerated Ted Bundy in the years leading to Bundy’s execution.
My Take – Filmmakers’ obsession with serial killers continue with this latest feature that once again focuses on one of the most notorious serial killers in U.S. history, Ted Bundy.
Over the years there have been numerous books, documentaries and films about Bundy, most notably two 2019 Netflix releases, a documentary called Conversations With A Killer: The Ted Bundy Tapes which addressed his legacy, and the very underrated Zac Efron led feature Extremely Wicked, Shockingly Evil And Vile.
While most of these adaptions seem to cover the same key points like his killings, and his subsequent trial, however in this film, director Amber Sealey (No Light and No Land Anywhere) and screenwriter Kit Lesser take a unique and intriguing approach to present Bundy. Not as the charming serial killer who raped and murdered around 30 girls and women in four states, but as a vile man in a more intimate and chilling environment as he awaits his execution.
Based on real life transcripts selected from conversations between Bundy and FBI Special Agent Bill Hagmaier that took place between 1984 and 1989, here, director Amber Sealey is never interested in displaying the notorious serial killer as a sexy criminal or as a supposed genius, but instead focuses on painstakingly deconstructing the myth that surrounded him and so many people bought into.
Backed by excellent directing, writing, and acting, the resulting film provides a fascinating intricate battle of wits and a dive into the darkest place known to humankind, the mind of a serial killer. If you are someone who thoroughly enjoyed the Netflix series, Mindhunter (like myself), this too will definitely make for a captivating watch.
The story follows Bill Hagmaier (Elijah Wood), an FBI Agent who is part of the burgeoning Behavior Analysis Unit interviewing serial killers in the hopes of putting together a cohesive study on what makes them tick, from their upbringing to their methods and state of mind before and during their gruesome deeds.
For his latest case, Hagmaier is assigned by his senior Roger Depue (Robert Patrick) to talk to Ted Bundy (Luke Kirby), despite the notoriety attached to him about not talking to the FBI or any criminal investigators or journalists, but whenever he did 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 eventually meets Bundy in his incarceration, the two end up forging a bond that not only sees Bundy help investigating other serial killers, but also reveal details about his own profile in the process.
Though the film may seem like a straightforward account of the final chapter of the arguably most iconic serial murderer, it is also a concerted effort to dispel certain myths surrounding Bundy’s legacy. What makes the film works so well is that director Sealey’s not trying to glorify a man responsible for murdering over 30+ women. Instead, she shows who Ted Bundy is without all the flair.
On the surface, he came across as charismatic and talkative, making it easy to be drawn to him, and just when you let your guard down for a fraction of a second, he reminded you just how monstrous he actually was. You also see the mental turmoil that Hagmaier went through by having numerous conversations with Bundy.
Especially the way the dynamic between the two shifts during the course 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 during this process.
Sick of the lies and the half-truths and game-playing, the FBI man sums it all up to the killer’s face, in terms of motive. Bundy killed because he wanted to, because he could. The realization is as chilling as it is simple. At the end of the film, you ponder who influenced who.
Their relationship was 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.
With the majority of this film being in a single setting, the acting really shines through and carries this film. Elijah Wood masterfully shows the eager FBI analyst who wants to learn from Bundy while also being torn apart by interacting with him. The emotional turmoil of interacting with Bundy and trying to keep faith in your religion is something Wood pulls off perfectly.
Luke Kirby, probably best known for playing Lenny Bruce on ‘The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel,’ is chilling as Ted Bundy. Here, Kirby pulls off the perfect balance between charming, intelligent, and creepy perfectly, resulting in the best adaptation of Bundy that I’ve seen in film.
In supporting turns, Robert Patrick and Aleksa Palladino are also quite excellent. On the whole, ‘No Man of God’ is a complex, chilling and fascinating true telling that offers a fresh perspective on the notorious serial killer.
Directed – Amber Sealey
Rated – R
Run Time – 100 minutes