Written by: Hannah Tran | August 26th, 2021
No Man of God (Amber Sealey, 2021) 3 out of 4 stars.
Three decades since his death, and Ted Bundy’s name is still playing in our minds, and maybe even more than in the last few years of his life. While a number of recent movies and docuseries take on the infamous figure from a new perspective, Amber Sealey’s No Man of God does the same while also going so far as to challenge that infamy. Based on the true story of Bundy’s relationship with Bill Hagmaier, an FBI agent who conducted interviews with Bundy to develop the FBI’s understanding of criminal profiling, this take provides a fresh view that’s underpinned by truly magnetic performances. But while it may do enough to justify its existence, No Man of God often feels too standard and safe to make its mark in the Bundy canon.
Made entirely in a bluish-gray color palette, the world that Amber Sealey (No Light and No Land Anywhere) creates reminds us of many of the crime dramas we’ve seen before. The often-chaotic sound and needlessly fast-paced editing are two of the elements most obviously trying to capture that high-adrenaline feel. However, while the film is about a subject who seems a perfect fit for that type of movie, the story itself works best when it leans more into My Dinner With Andre than Zodiac. While the film itself is executed perfectly adequately, the material often feels as though it calls for a more playful, emotional approach.
Luke Kirby (Little Woods), as the notorious killer, quite nearly makes up for this. Simultaneously pitiable, charming, and unnerving, his Bundy is a more nuanced interpretation that allows you to understand the deceptive persona without ever asking you to sympathize with him. While Elijah Wood (Come to Daddy), as Hagmaier, is relatable and poignant, Kirby’s Bundy is much more absorbing. It is the scenes together where both actors are able to truly shine.
While focusing on two men, it’s clear the film wanted to inject a feminine point of view. Although it may not be very substantial, the background focus on the women who surround these men is a surprising and smart spin. It is in the limited but powerful time spent with these women that we truly see the impact of the violence Bundy brought into the world. In fact, by far the most creative and powerful scene of the film is during an interview Bundy had on air in which he discussed some of his sadistic and perverse thinking and acts. But while it is that story that has gripped the world for decades, Sealy turns the camera to a young woman on the broadcast crew, and we watch her painful reaction across her face over the course of what seems a never-ending take.
But while No Man of God articulates its messages regarding violence against women and the power each person has within them to perpetuate that violence, it loses some of its sting in the final moments. Although it centers Hagmaier in its narrative, it doesn’t feel in-depth enough to be a biopic. Yet the final moments have an almost flippant tonal shift that returns us back to his career. Thus, in line with many of its other aspects, the overarching themes of No Man of God take intriguing directions that soon find themselves without a gratifying destination.