Director Tony Stone and star Sharlto Copley give us a riveting bio-pic/thriller in Ted K about the Unabomber Ted Kaczynski.
Notes from the Underground. Taxi Driver. Mr. Robot. First Reform. Storytellers are constantly drawn to the loner. This figure often gives creators fruitful ground to rifle through the heightened emotions of solitude, loneliness, and mental illness. Often these stories end in abhorrent vigilante violence perpetrated on targets. These are stories of fiction. These are not reality. These are not Ted Kaczynski.
Ted Kaczynski aka the Unabomber in the 1990s terrorized America with his homemade bombs shipped through the US Postal Service. The tracking and capture of one of the most notorious domestic terrorists have been seen over and over through TV specials, Documentaries, even a few TV movies, and a Michael Mann film had a piece in it. None have bothered to make a subjective portrait, until now.
Ted K is a sobering look at Kaczynski (Sharlto Copley) after years in the woods of Lincoln, Montana as the encroaching businesses of lumber, outdoors lifestyle, and general technology folds into his already frail psyche. As Kaczynski begins to deteriorate his resolve to act begins to take focus. The focus quickly becomes dangerous as he crafts and sends out his own IED (e.g., Improvised Explosive Devices). The infamy of his deeds only emboldens the man to act more brazen in his attacks.
There is no heroic or procedural dramaturgy that unfolds to give a heightened sense of exploitative thrills. Rather Ted Knever leaves Kaczynski’s headspace. We see things unfold as the man would have through newspapers and TV news reports. The combination of pure ID and EGO at play coupled with sadness gives star Copley one of the best roles he’s had in years. Copley’s performance is a brilliant piece of empathy.
The actor is always at his best when given the room. Stone direction and screenplay by fellow co-writers Gaddy Davis and John Rosenthal does just that. Tony Stone’s film is not one of condemnation or sympathy. It is a sobering subjective account of a man who like many of his misguided ilk chose violence as it was the only means they understood. Copley’s performance never forgets Kaczynski’s mental health issues. Even the single most distracting choice, a cliché that has been used multiple times. In the hands of Copley and director Stone, doesn’t feel ham-fisted as it has in other more recent films.
The film never falters into misunderstood anti-hero or pure villain thankfully. Ted K is an adroit enough film to understand that tackling a subject as complex as Kaczynski is never as easy as a binary argument. That distance produces one of the more fascinating and dangerous accounts of domestic terrorism the dramatic heft it deserves.