Sharlto Copley stars as the Unabomber Ted Kaczynski in this so-so chronicle of the notorious terrorist.
Given that Netflix are currently streaming two shows about the life of American terrorist Ted Kaczynski, one has to question what if anything Tony Stone’s Ted K can add to the story. As it happens, the film differs from dramatised procedural Manhunt: Unabomber and true crime docuseries Unabomber: In His Own Words by offering a degree of psychological and environmental verisimilitude.
Kaczynski’s childhood as a mathematical prodigy is touched upon in an opening title card, though the three years he spent at Harvard undergoing humiliating abuse as part of an experiment are omitted. Further text explains that Kaczynski (played by Sharlto Copley) lived in a small cabin outside Lincoln, Montana, and that the cabin we see in the film was built in the same rural location, while Kaczynski’s 25,000-page diaries were mined for Copley’s voiceover.
We spend much of the film’s runtime alone with Kaczynski in the wilderness as he meticulously plans and executes the 17-year bombing campaign that killed three people and injured 22 more. We see him establish targets including the owner of a computer store, while choice diary quotes such as “Modern technology is the worst thing that ever happened to the world” and “I am definitely glad to have done what I have” give a chilling flavour of Kaczynski’s sociopathy and lack of remorse.
Copley, also on board as a producer, is captivating in the lead role. He plays the notorious Unabomber as a ragged recluse barely capable of keeping his unhinged personality in check when making darkly humorous payphone calls to his family or having a verbal altercation with a female superior before getting fired. A love interest is hinted at when he meets Becky (Amber Rose Mason) while volunteering at a library and this is the only real mystery contained in the film.
The pair later ride a bike together but it’s left ambivalent as to whether either instance of them together is real or imagined (there is no real-life record of Becky). Presumably this is an attempt on Stone’s part to humanise Kaczynski, but it feels misplaced among the precise location-shot bomb-making scenes and direct passages lifted from his diaries.
Typically anxiety-inducing synths from Blanck Mass ratchet up the tension while Alice in Chains’ ‘Rooster’ is a welcome alt-rock soundtrack choice deployed appropriately in the latter stage of the Kaczynski’s terrorist campaign. Other musical choices are less well thought through. The use of Bobby Vinton’s ‘Mr Lonely’ is rather on-the-nose, while Franz Schubert’s ‘Piano Trio in E Flat’ is already overfamiliar in cinema, having featured prominently in Barry Lyndon and, more recently, Moffie.
Published 2 Mar 2021
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