There’s a growing belief among people that media depictions of serial killers need to be handled with the utmost care. It’s important not to become too sympathetic towards people (usually men) that have often tortured, assaulted and murdered innocent people. In recent times there’s been a move away from the salacious nature of depicting their crimes to seeing them through other perspectives. The teenage years of Dahmer in My Friend Dahmer is a prime example of exploring what drives a killer without resorting to exploiting dead people.
No Man of God is an interesting prospect, a film based on the transcripts of FBI profiler Bill Hagmaier and Ted Bundy during his final years on death row. The film, in some respects, owes a debt to the work of Joe Berlinger, most notably The Bundy Tapes, but also the film adaptation of Frost/Nixon.
What the film does is explore what happens when a person becomes embroiled in the mind of a charismatic killer. For his efforts as Hagmaier, Elijah Wood is perfectly cast. He has the same wide eyed innocence that marked him as Frodo but with an underlying edge that occasionally peers out from under his empathetic eyes. Wood has never gotten the plaudits he perhaps deserved for his ability to project vulnerability even when saying nothing, but it’s on display here. Much of his role as Hagmaier is to look and study Bundy as he talks.
It’s not hard to see why, Luke Kirby as the notorious killer is very fine indeed. Much like Zac Efron who played Bundy in Extremely Wicked, Shockingly Evil and Vile, Kirby is perhaps a bit too handsome to play Bundy, who was only good looking by serial killer standards. He doesn’t totally humanise Bundy to the point where we forget he’s a killer, we are forever watching a man thinking he’s smarter than everyone else but ultimately is just desperate for attention.
Director Amber Sealey does her best to not make the film appear like a stage play, despite it being mainly two people in a room talking for much of the run time. She keeps her camera close on both men, exploring their eyes and facial expressions as they both talk and react to each other. Moments from the history of the time are referenced – Bundy’s involvement in the Green River Killer case, Ann Rule’s book, among others, but it’s never a history lesson.
Writer Kit Lesser (actually C. Robert Cargill) doesn’t bother to focus on the external life of Hagmaier, this isn’t about how his time with Bundy corroded his soul, but about how two men from different lives could find common ground even if one is a vicious rapist and the other a good natured profiler.
Many might balk at the way in which it never depicts Bundy’s actions, or that it never feels like he’s taken to task, but in a way Sealey is exploring the darker aspects of mankind, and the film, much like most people in his orbit, is seduced by Bundy’s mannered, and often witty conversations.
No Man of God will be released digitally in the UK on September 13th.