Reviewed by Colin Jacobson (October 12, 2021)
With 2013’s Maniac, Elijah Wood played against type to portray a serial killer. Wood returns to the right side of the law for 2021’s No Man of God, a drama based on the story of Ted Bundy.
Into 1980, Bundy (Luke Kirby) finds himself convicted of murder and sentenced to death. As he awaits execution in 1985, he agrees to discuss the specifics of his actions with the FBI.
Part of a team that works to “profile” criminals, analyst Bill Hagmaier (Wood). As Hagmaier probes Bundy’s warped mind, a messy relationship between the two evolves.
Jame Gumb from Silence Of the Lambs used Bundy as a partial inspiration. In particular, think of the scene where Gumb uses a supposed broken arm to lure Catherine Martin into his van.
However, God seems to base its narrative more on another Lambs character; Hannibal Lecter. While not as dramatic and flamboyant as the cannibalistic psychiatrist, the film clearly uses Bundy in a similar manner.
To a degree, that is, for God doesn’t come with the same kind of plot. Whereas Lambs followed the FBI’s pursuit of Gumb, God doesn’t go down that path.
Oh, God does tease us that Bundy/Hagmaier will replicate the Lecter/Starling dynamic in that way. In the first act, Bundy seems preoccupied with the Green River killer, so the film hints that Hagmaier will pump Ted for insights and catch that murderer.
This doesn’t become an actual plot line, though, and I appreciate that. Rather than pursue a thriller orientation, God goes for character insights, and it does well in that regard.
Essentially God feels like a feature based around the kinds of conversations Starling and Lecter conducted in Lambs. This means Hagmaier needs to offer his own personal notes, so there’s a lot of Lecter’s beloved quid pro quo.
Whereas director Amber Sealey easily could play all this for melodrama, she usually resists these temptations. God occasionally goes a little over the top, but it usually musters an intriguing view of the two personalities on display.
Both Wood and Kirby handle their roles nicely. In particular, Kirby really channels the actual Bundy, but he avoids the temptation to just offer a cardboard imitation. He delivers a Bundy with many dimensions.
Because it comes as a direct to video affair, I didn’t expect a whole lot from No Man of God. However, it provides a very pleasant surprise, as it delivers a rich, engaging character drama.