Ted K


Ted Kaczynski mulls over his alter ego.

(2021) Biographical Drama (Super LTD/Neon) Sharlto Copley, Drew Powell, Christian Calloway, Tahmus Rounds, Kate Scott, David Ward, Lois Keister, Teresa Garland, Nicole Welch, Andrew Senn, Megan Folsom, Brandon Seaman, Vincent James Carnevale, Ian Primus, Ben Fundis, Bobby Tisdale, Joe Felece, Amber Rose Mason, Travis Bruyer, Robert Braine, Nancy Rothman. Directed by Tony Stone

We are aware of those folks who for whatever reason choose to withdraw from society. We envision them, in their lonely cabins in the wilderness, shouting at the universe, their rage echoing harmlessly off the walls of their place of exile, taking no effect on the universe or those living in it. There are those, occasionally, who venture from their lairs and do real damage.

We are informed in a pre-credits crawl that Ted Kaczynski (Copley) was a math prodigy who got his PhD in mathematics at age 16 and was well on his way to a brilliant career as a college professor when after a year he withdrew from his university and went to live on the land near Lincoln, Montana, in an isolated cabin he built with his brother Dave.

Ted’s natural reverie is interrupted by the noise and damage of snowmobilers. Ted waits until they are away from their luxury cabin, when he breaks in and takes at their things with an axe. One gets the sense that Ted is a powderkeg of rage just waiting to explode, but he turns out to be more of a slow-burner, one whose frustration and anger percolate and simmer, releasing from time to time in acts of violence – constructing homemade bombs that would kill three and injure 22, some horribly. His acts of domestic terrorism, aimed at random targets he felt were advancing technology which he thought would destroy the human race, or defiling nature, would earn him the name he is better known as – the Unabomber.

If you’re looking into insight about what makes Ted click, you won’t find it here. Although the film uses Kaczynski’s own words (from over 25,000 pages of writing found in his cabin after his arrest) for the voiceover narration. Kaczynski’s writing style can be dubbed radical academic. A brilliant, literate man, he was nonetheless a pompous writer.

Stone, who previously directed the lyrical documentary Peter and the Farm, utilizes cinematographer Nathan Corbin’s talents extensively, creating beautiful and often bucolic images of life in rural Rocky Mountain Montana. He also utilizes the electronic noodling of Blanck Mass to often create a disturbing, discordant background. Stone doesn’t use the narrative tropes of your average biopic, but rather intersperses surreal dream images in an effort to give audiences a taste of the madness that Kaczynski was experiencing, including manufacturing a fantasy woman figure (Mason) to illustrate Ted’s simultaneous longing for companionship and misogyny.

We are not meant to understand what turned a brilliant mathematics professor into a remorseless, heartless bomber and Stone wisely doesn’t try. We get the broad strokes that Kaczynski left behind in his manifesto, but no sense of how the transformation actually occurred. We are left, then, to wonder at how someone so rational could change so radically that any logical thought he had – and it’s clear Stone believes that he had some – were suborned by acts of chaos. We never feel sympathy towards Ted Kaczynski, but we get the sense that Stone is saying that just because the Unabomber was insane doesn’t necessarily mean he was wrong.

REASONS TO SEE: Copley is mesmerizing. Wonderful cinematography.
REASONS TO AVOID: If you’re looking for answers as to what made Kaczynski tick, you won’t find any.
FAMILY VALUES: There is violence, plenty of profanity and some sexual situations including brief nudity.
TRIVIAL PURSUIT: A good deal of the production was filmed where Ted Kaczynski’s cabin actually once stood (it has since been torn down).
BEYOND THE THEATERS: Amazon, AppleTV, DirecTV, Google Play, Microsoft, Spectrum, Vudu
CRITICAL MASS: As of 2/19/2022: Rotten Tomatoes: 84% positive reviews; Metacritic: 67/100.
COMPARISON SHOPPING: One Hour Photo
FINAL RATING: 7.5/10
NEXT:
A Banquet

Imperium


A bunch of knuckleheads...I mean, skinheads.

A bunch of knuckleheads…I mean, skinheads.

(2016) Drama (Grindstone/Lionsgate) Daniel Radcliffe, Toni Collette, Tracy Letts, Sam Trammell, Nelson Carbonell, Chris Sullivan, Seth Numrich, Pawel Szajda, Devin Druid, Burn Gorman, Adam Meier, Roger Yawson, Linc Hand, Vanessa Ore, Jasson Finney, David Aranovich, Paul Chapman, David Meadows, Maboud Ebrahimzadeh, Asif Khan, Cora Metzfield. Directed by Daniel Ragussis

 

The underbelly of a nation – any nation – is often ugly. The white supremacist movement is part of our own underbelly, like it or not. It is a movement based on fear; fear of anything different, but also of inspiring fear in others. I can’t think of any ethnic American who would be happy to be cornered by a pack of white supremacists. This is a sub-strata of Americans in which violence is always lurking close to the surface.

When some chemicals that could be used in the making of a dirty bomb go missing, the initial thought at the FBI is that it is the usual suspects – Islamic extremists – who are behind it. However, gum-chewing agent Angela Zamparo (Collette) has an idea it might be something more homegrown – white supremacists – who might be behind the theft. She doesn’t really have the support of her superiors but she is just convincing enough to have an undercover operation authorized. To pull it off, she doesn’t get the usual veteran field agent but instead an analyst named Nate Foster (Radcliffe) who has no undercover experience whatsoever.

Going undercover with a backstory of being a Black Ops Marine who is tired of seeing his country overrun by the same sorts he was fighting in the Middle East, Foster infiltrates the various strata of white supremacist culture starting with the violent and impulsive skinheads (whom he cleverly stops from assaulting an interracial couple) to the more organized militia types who have camps set up in rural locations and have some big plans. But it is the big fish that Foster is after. He starts with radio host and author Dallas Wolf (Letts) who is on a book tour to promote his hate-filled opus Genocide: The Death of White America. In turn this leads to Gerry Conway (Trammell), a soft-spoken family man who hosts barbecues, is a vegetarian, adores classical music and almost reasonably espouses a race war that would lead to the whites taking back America. His is the most chilling villain of all; the true believer. But do the white supremacists have the chemical? And if so, what do they intend to do with it?

The film takes a little while to get going but once it does, it is a pretty strong crime drama. While the premise reeks of TV cop drama, the fact that it is based on true events lends authenticity generally absent on the small screen.

The elephant in the room needs to be tackled first of all. Radcliffe is not the most imposing physical specimen in the world and he’s cast as a kind of mousy FBI analyst, which works but when he gets a backstory of being a badass ex-Marine it kinda doesn’t. Some have snarked about Radcliffe’s Harry Potter past and how it could be construed that enterprising true life white supremacist groups could cut and paste a video in which kids could be indoctrinated into thinking that Radcliffe himself believes this garbage which is absolute malarkey. Just because, say, Pierce Brosnan has played some characters with repugnant personal beliefs does it mean that anyone believes that James Bond is repugnant even if you edit all of the footage together.

Still, as the film went on, I found myself drawn into Radcliffe’s performance and after seeing him this year as a farting corpse in Swiss Army Man and in the last few years in a variety of roles I’ve come to the conclusion that not only is he a versatile actor but also a fearless one. Nate gets out of situations not so much by physical means but more by his wits; which makes the character much more believable. While the story has essentially been done before, the way it is presented here is pretty much unique.

There are a lot of racial epithets strewn about here and that might make some viewers uncomfortable although after awhile you do become kind of numb to it. The thing about hate speech is that if you hear it long enough you begin to realize how pointless it really is and you just kind of tune it out. I wonder what that says about us as a society?

The FBI is portrayed as a bureaucratic mess here with low level management attempting to carve out their own little niche and taking out any who aren’t with their own program, even if it means ignoring an entire line of investigation. I suppose that there is some truth to that in some cases but it is hard to believe that a law enforcement agency that has really kept domestic terrorism to a bare minimum is quite that dysfunctional. Of course, that’s more my observation and is not based on anything empirical; I’m not familiar with the inner workings of the FBI and the writers had access to at least one person who was.

In any case, this is a disturbing, powerful movie that reminds us that some of the most dangerous terrorists in the country aren’t wearing burkas or quote the Quran. Those who are primed to think that all of our troubles come from without (and I’m looking at you Trump supporter) may be well-advised to look again. This isn’t a movie that will resonate with everyone, but it is a disquieting look at a strata of our society that is out there – and has plans.

REASONS TO GO: The last half of the movie is powerful and suspenseful. The soundtrack is terrific. Radcliffe delivers an unexpected performance.
REASONS TO STAY: The film takes awhile to get going. The bureaucracy of the FBI portrayed here may be frustrating for some.
FAMILY VALUES:  A whole lot of swearing going on.
TRIVIAL PURSUIT:  The film is inspired by the real-life story of FBI agent Michael German who contributed to the writing of the script.
BEYOND THE THEATER: Amazon, iTunes
CRITICAL MASS: As of 9/10/16: Rotten Tomatoes: 86% positive reviews. Metacritic: 71/100.
COMPARISON SHOPPING: Betrayed
FINAL RATING: 7/10
NEXT: Pete’s Dragon (2016)