Movie Review: ‘Ted K’

Greetings again from the darkness. It’s been more than 25 years since The Unabomber was arrested. The composite sketch of Theodore John Kaczynski wearing sunglasses and a hoodie became an iconic image on its own, and he was the target of the longest and most expensive manhunt in the history of the FBI. There have already been two crime series focused on Kaczynski. Netflix aired “Unabomber: In His Own Words” (2020) and Discovery had “Manhunt: Unabomber” (2017). Do we need to know more about this monster whose bombs killed 3 people and injured 22 others over a 17-year period? Well, writer-director Tony Stone and co-writers Gaddy Davis and John Rosenthal believe so.

A prologue with text details most of what we already know – Kaczynski was a Harvard educated math genius who dropped out of society and moved to the Rocky Mountains in Montana. Following that, the opening sequence sets the stage as we see Kaczynski hiding in the forest eyeing a family zipping around on snow mobiles. This is all accompanied by Blanck Mass music that falls into the category I call ‘doom-droning’. It’s ominous music so blatant that no one could possibly think anything good is about to happen. And of course, nothing good does happen.

Sharlto Copley (DISTRICT 9, 2009) stars as Kaczynski, and if there is a complaint to be made against this movie, it’s that Copley’s performance is so strong that we begin to see this monster as a human being. Living 25 years in a ten by twelve-foot backwoods cabin he built with his brother, Kaczynski doesn’t make the case for nature vs nurture, but rather nature vs tech intrusions. He seems mostly fine in his isolation until disturbed by the seasonal snow mobiles, four-wheelers, jet noise, or ongoing lumber harvesting. Of course, he was never really fine. He was a sexually frustrated misogynist who became a dysfunctional and delusional and dangerous man. In a voiceover, he states, “I act merely for my desire for revenge.”

Much of the film is pulled directly from the 25,000 pages of coded journals found in the cabin. The deluded thoughts of a man who considered modern technology to be evil and used a hit list to identify the targets for his homemade bombs … bombs that often injured unintended victims. Copley plays him as a wide-eyed guy with the expected undercurrent of intelligence masked by one so unhinged he personally delivers his complaint letter to the customer service desk of the phone company – over a few dimes and quarters lost over time.

The film was shot on location on the Montana land owned by Kaczynski. The cabin has been expertly recreated and cinematographer Nathan Corbin does a terrific job in catching the beauty of nature, as well as the elements that so bothered Kaczynski. Frequently wearing sunglasses and riding his bicycle into town to visit the library, we also see him listening to classical music on the radio – and begging his mother and brother (the one who tipped off the FBI) for money (to finance his bombing trips). The film is well written, professionally directed, expertly photographed, and well performed. However, I can’t shake the uneasiness over whether we really want to see one of our most unconscionable monsters humanized to this degree.

In theaters and On Demand beginning February 18, 2022

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