Ted Bundy has been covered extensively in pop culture.
Many documentaries, podcasts, and feature films dedicated time to the notorious serial killer. Unfortunately, as with any media examining a serial killer, there’s a risk of sensationalizing Ted Bundy’s crimes and personhood. Glamorizing or monsterizing him leads to an incomplete story and disrespects his victims’ lives. No Man of God avoids this issue altogether, focusing instead on his relationship with FBI agent Bill Hagmaier. It’s an interesting angle that gives the film its own identity, divorced from traditional true crime foder.
The story focuses on Bill Hagmaier (Elijah Wood) and his developing relationship with Ted Bundy (Luke Kirby best known for Lenny Bruce in Marvelous Mrs. Maisel), as it takes place during the final years of Ted Bundy’s life before his eventual execution. The film is heavily dialogue-oriented, with director Amber Sealey injecting energy to reflect Hagmaier and Bundy’s back-and-forth while maintaining an uneasy mood. Its dialogue focus may make the film challenging to resonate with some viewers, but I was personally enthralled.
The dialogue has subtext within subtext. It was exhilarating seeing Elijah Wood and Luke Kirby play off each other as their characters try desperately to outmaneuver each other. The name of the game is to get in each other’s skin, trying to get a rise out of the other. They play up different elements of their lives or personality, sometimes lie, and it was fun seeing these two duke it out. In addition to the excellent writing of C. Robert Cargill (Sinister and Doctor Strange), it’s a testament to Sealey’s direction to make these conversations exciting.
The performances make this movie special, a proper acting clinic for everyone involved. The challenge is that both Elijah Wood and Luke Kirby aren’t just playing Hagmaier and Bundy; they’re playing both fake and real versions of these characters. Neither character reveals their true self so early, as Hagmaier tries to get what he needs out of Bundy, and Bundy toys with Hagmaier’s patience and emotions. Wood nails Hagmaier’s strategic mindset, slowly drawing out a level of comfort to get Bundy to talk. At the same time, Kirby slipped into the role of Bundy like a skin suit, perfectly capturing his performative nature. Unlike the traditional portrayals that lean on Ted Bundy’s charisma, Kirby’s understood Bundy’s faux charm, leaning into his arrogance, feeling the need to give Hagmaier a show. Kirby captured Bundy’s ego as naturally as Wood captured Hagmaier’s tenacity.
No Man of God is a subtle but literal war of words. Or, more accurately, a war of personalities. It was an intense, entertaining sit, anchored by great performances and confident direction. It manages to be entertaining without being sensationalistic, a skilled feat worth recognizing in the realm of true crime.
No Man of God will be released theatrically on August 27th