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Ted Talks

Karina Silva

No Man of God (2021)

It’s awful that a movie about a serial killer can be kind of boring. Set almost entirely inside the Florida prison where Ted Bundy (in an absolute perfect piece of casting, Luke Kirby) spends his final years, it’s about the relationship F.B.I. mindhunter Bill Hagmaier (Elijah Wood) builds with him. And while text at the start of the movie claims this is based on Mr. Hagmaier’s notes and memories, it’s fairly clear from the title there’s another agenda here.

Bill is a deeply religious man; most of the very few scenes outside of the prison are of his morning prayer rituals, or focus on the religious medallions he keeps in his car. Occasionally Bill and Ted touch on their faith, but mostly the conversations as shown by writer Kit Lesser show them becoming friends, after a fashion. Of course, not all of this is smart, especially the bit where Bill tells a story about his own abusive childhood which hinges on an animal’s silence. That’s been done already, Clarice. While Bill never loses sight of Ted’s continuing agenda or of the fact of his crimes, he is there to learn about him as a person and to adapt that knowledge in tracking down other serial killers. It’s a feeble hook upon which to hang a film. Director Amber Sealey does a workaday job; the most interesting parts are when cinematographer Karina Silva’s camera lingers a little too long on women Bill encounters in passing. The choice to center the only female crew member present at Ted’s final interview is a good one. But whose point of view is the camera copying?

The title implies that Bill’s interest in plumbing the depths of human depravity will not get him into heaven; but if that’s the movie’s point, it fails to make it. Instead we have 100 minutes of Mr. Kirby’s satanic handsomeness – which the movie industry has yet to know quite what to do with – and Mr. Wood’s stolid earnestness slowly intertwining as the date of the execution approaches. Aleksa Palladino has a crucial small part as a lawyer who is willing to besmirch her own reputation in service to her belief that all life, even one as appalling as Ted’s, is sacrosanct. The contrast of moralities between her character and Bill’s is the movie’s sharpest achievement, but the rest of it is merely an exercise in access to evil, a banal thrill ride with little fresh appeal.


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