Seldom has there been a film about a real-life monster that evoked such empathy.
That may sound a little strange. But right from the start, we see “Ted K” as someone we understand … at first. Then, as the titular recluse becomes more unstable, we see how he becomes radicalized, and eventually becomes the man most people know as the Unabomber, who was arrested in 1996.
Ted Kacynski, who killed three people and injured 23 more, is played here by Sharlto Copley (“District 9”) in a powerful performance made all the more compelling because it was filmed on the very piece of Montana land the real-life Kacynski owned.
The director and screenwriters based some of the film on Kacynski’s writings that he typed on a portable typewriter in a little cabin the woods. Ted is enraged by the way people – from loggers to snowmobilers – intrude on the land.
Ted, by all reports a highly intelligent man, detests technology and, with a few rare exceptions, refuses to make it part of his everyday life.
One of the exceptions is a public telephone, which he uses to beg his mother and brother for money. As his beloved wilderness is ravaged, Ted becomes more and more enraged and determined to wage a war against industrialization.
All the while, we see how Ted manages to survive in the wild and in his cramped quarters. Copley is so engaging at times that it’s hard to remember we’re watching a true-crime feature film instead of a documentary.
Incidentally, some of the people who portray Ted’s neighbors are played by residents of that area, which adds another note of realism to the film.
Copley’s outstanding performance as a man obsessed is one of the finest of the year.
3 ½ stars
Rated: R for foul language and nudity.
Running time: Two hours.
Watch the trailer here.
Available on numerous streaming services, DVD and Blu-ray.