THE STORY – Ted Kaczynski lives a life of quiet seclusion in a wooden cabin in the mountains of Montana. His growing contempt for technology and modern society soon leads to local acts of sabotage and deadly bombing attacks.
THE CAST – Sharlto Copley
THE TEAM – Tony Stone (Director/Writer), Gaddy Davis & John Rosenthal (Writers)
THE RUNNING TIME – 122 Minutes
By Josh Parham
For better or worse, the world seems to have a never-ending fixation on serial killers and the process of peering into their psychology. One can surmise that an intriguing element lurks within the damaged mind of an individual that can drive them to such violent acts of atrocity. The curiosity to understand such methodology on a deeper level can be an interesting exploration, and this has clearly fueled a persistent hunger for more stories that dissect these acts of criminality. Whether told through documentary or fictionalized dramatization, the quest for more of these narratives marches on, and the new film “Ted K” is another entry into this long procession. Its outcome is decidedly mixed, despite some inventive avenues it ends up taking.
The notorious subject of this film is Ted Kaczynski (Sharlto Copley), who is most commonly known as the Unabomber. The story begins with his life in rural Montana, isolated from most of the world as he harbors contempt for an industrialized society with no respect for the surrounding natural world. His resentment towards humanity, establishment figures, and women festers to the point where he feels the need to lash out. This is what leads to him creating intricate explosive devices that he sends all throughout the country, creating a national frenzy and mobilizing a manhunt. Up until his eventual capture, Kaczynski is shown to be a dangerous man with a toxic ideology slipping deeper into his own deranged perspective.
It is very apparent that Copley’s performance is the most noticeable aspect of the film. His committed presence to inhabit this dark personality drives much of the focus. Admittedly, his past filmography has been one that has had genuinely endearing turns, but the line of works since “District 9” have featured wildly inconsistent results. There is still a more captivating quality to Copley that feels elusive, though that is obviously more intentional to reflect the detached nature of the lifestyle. To his credit, Copley indeed communicates the rage and anxiety that drove a man to such horrible deeds, but something lacks to craft a more intriguing portrait. Ultimately, he delivers a somewhat middling portrayal that does well to ground this piece but struggles to reach an extraordinary level that exposes these complexities in a more fascinating manner.
Most of what director Tony Stone assembles from the filmmaking is not particularly remarkable either, though some occasional touches add a much-appreciated vibrancy. A great deal of the storytelling manages to tap into an overwhelming claustrophobia that is effective yet can also be oppressive to the point where the material is less impactful. The immersive sound design and synth score are exceptional, as well as a few experimental sequences that inject a burst of wild creativity. Still, these components violently clash with a glossy visual aesthetic that never evokes the sensibilities of the time period. The cinematography does not escape this modern sheen and betrays any sense of immersion one could get from a story that is meant to take place several decades in the past. Stone’s directorial efforts are a mixed bag of some impressive crafts that conflict with various other creative decisions.
Sadly, the screenplay fares far worse in its attempt to construct an engaging depiction of this character. The opening crawl states that many of the diary entries presented are direct quotes from the several volumes that Kaczynski wrote himself, and this conclusively makes for stale dialogue that calls out for creative liberties to be taken. It is what mainly contributes to the film’s tedious pace that can be difficult to persevere through. The characterization the script aims to communicate is one that feels flat in the construction and is only occasionally prodded deeper. However, this is nowhere near consistent enough to be a wholly successful endeavor.
Because “Ted K” does exist in a long line of familiar properties that explore the psychology of an infamous killer, one does hope for a final product that is either revelatory in its messaging or engrossing in its presentation. This film doesn’t ever truly satisfy either, even though it features glimmers of a more alluring story. Copley’s performance has shades of something more interesting despite an aura of untapped potential, and the filmmaking shines with dynamic moments even when it is only serviceable at other times. Unfortunately, the script is the anchor that weighs the whole thing down and prevents this from becoming anything more memorable. The landscape is littered with stories that don’t leave much of an impression, and this film ends up only continuing that trend.
THE FINAL SCORE
THE GOOD – The filmmaking occasionally utilizes some impressive crafts and experimental imagery to create an engaging portrait of a dangerous individual. Sharlto Copley gives a committed performance. The synth score is exceptional.
THE BAD – The storytelling struggles to create a more dynamic portrait, leaving a hollowness in the character study. The pacing is very tedious and contributes to minimal emotional impact. Copley’s commitment doesn’t translate to a captivating screen presence.