“No Man of God” (available in select theaters and on VOD beginning Friday, Aug. 27) isn’t necessarily the Elijah Wood/Robert Patrick “The Faculty” reunion I was expecting, but it’s the one we got … and it’s a pretty damned good one at that.
Wood stars as Bill Hagmaier, one of the FBI’s first criminal profilers who’s been tasked by his boss Roger Depue (Patrick) with getting notorious serial killer Ted Bundy (Luke Kirby) to talk. This is no small feat as Bundy hates feds and enjoys toying with them, but the work is important as the intel Hagmaier collects could provide closure to the families of Bundy’s victims and give insight into the minds of other maniacs.
Over the course of many years and innumerable more visits, Hagmaier and Bundy build a rapport and even a friendship of sorts. Bundy goes so far as to refer to Hagmaier as his best friend. The men bond over their roles as fathers and engage in exercises of intellectual one-upmanship. A parallel is drawn between the two where it’s suggested that either man could be sitting on the other side of the table.
As directed by Amber Sealey and written by C. Robert Cargill (who wrote film criticism under the pseudonym Massawyrm at Ain’t It Cool News and scripted the “Sinister” pictures and “Doctor Strange”), “No Man of God” isn’t sensationalistic in its execution nor does it flashback to show graphic depictions of Bundy’s multiple crimes. The movie’s scariest and most impactful moment has Bundy holding hands with Hagmaier and verbally walking him through a particularly memorable murder. This is a simple two-hander that excels through Cargill’s thoughtful words and Wood and Kirby’s deft performances.
Wood is ideal casting as Hagmaier. He brings the same wide-eyed innocence he brought to Frodo Baggins in “The Lord of the Rings: The Fellowship of the Ring” so you believe Hagmaier when he earnestly prays to God that he has the strength to pull the trigger not one second too soon nor one second too late. Much like “LOTR” Wood’s character is strengthened and hardened by the task to which he’s been assigned. This stands alongside “LOTR,” “Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind” and “Sin City” as some of the best work of Wood’s career.
As good as Wood is, Kirby’s even better in an admittedly showier role. I’m not nearly as familiar with Kirby’s filmography as I am with Wood’s. I mostly know him as one of Michael Myers’ victims from “Halloween: Resurrection” and as the dude who cucked Seth Rogen’s character in Sarah Polley’s “Take This Waltz.” Kirby’s absolutely magnetic here. Cargill’s words and Kirby’s performance convey Bundy’s intelligence and charm – they even flirt with showing empathy for him – but they don’t for a minute let the audience forget that Bundy’s a monster. Kirby presents us with a searing portrait of toxic masculinity run amok.
Even though this is ultimately a two-hander, Wood and Kirby are ably supported by the likes of Patrick, “Boardwalk Empire” actress Aleksa Palladino as civil rights attorney Carolyn Lieberman (whom many believed engaged in sexual impropriety with Bundy despite no evidence and her actual feelings to the contrary) and aces “There’s Something About Mary” and “Deadwood” character actor W. Earl Brown as Warden Wilkenson, who oversaw Bundy’s time at Florida State Prison.
There’s been a bit of strife between Sealey and director Joe Berlinger, who directed the Netflix-based Bundy double shot of “Conversations with a Killer: The Ted Bundy Tapes” and “Extremely Wicked, Shockingly Evil and Vile” (in which Zac Efron played Bundy). Berlinger via e-mail accused Sealey of trashing his works in order to promote her own. I don’t believe Sealey did so explicitly and it’s certainly not there in the text itself. I will say this much – I did prefer “No Man of God” to “Extremely Wicked” and also preferred Kirby’s Bundy to Efron’s. I don’t think either film purposefully glamorized Bundy. Additionally, Sealey came at the story from a different enough direction that there was still a surprising amount of meat on these bones.