Your weekly Netflix Pick is one out of left field for sure. The thought of a Discovery channel original series probably conjures images of caricatures chasing UFO’s or an archeological show where the drama has to be completely fabricated. Luckily Manhunt is a tight mini-series with some incredible acting.
Everyone knows the name Ted Kaczynski. Does everyone know the whole story? Manhunt tells exactly that. While the title implies just the hunt for the man infamously known as the Unabomber there is so much more to it. Jim Fitzgerald (Sam Worthington) is a profiler on his very first case out of school. The case he is given has been eluding law enforcement nationwide for years. He is given the case of the Unabomber.
The Unabomber was a serial bomber whose targets didn’t seem to have connections. The few bits of contact made left no apparent evidence, and the FBI was looking in the wrong places for the wrong type of person. Using linguistic forensics, a concept invented during the Unabomber case, Fitz managed to narrow the search for Ted Kaczynski and eventually lead to the man’s arrest.
As the story unfolds it becomes clear that while Kaczynski and Unabomber are household names the real story may not be. Before we move on, yes the series does take some artistic license. That doesn’t mean it isn’t based in truth nor does it mean the broad strokes aren’t there.
The narrative is excellent. It jumps around on the timeline of the Unabomber case and even gives the Kaczynski character some great development. There is a clear respect between Fitz and Kaczynski even if the methods aren’t supported. Telling a true crime story that is so well known actually benefits from the majority of the general public having a solid idea of where it ends up.
The episode that deals the most with Kaczynski’s past never asks the audience to excuse what he had done. The explanations of how Kaczynski ends up the way he does is informational only. The documentary never tries to push a modern agenda or get you to pity the villain. It’s objective storytelling at its finest.
Even telling a true story the various creators manage to find a way to draw parallels in their story telling between the two characters who live in different worlds.
The big draw to the series was the cast. Paul Bettany playing a real life villain? Sam Worthington being able to escape the relative shackles of a big budget tentpole movie? Any movie fan’s interest should be peaked right here.
Worthington has times hiding his accent at times but the minor hiccups don’t take away from a dedicated performance. You truly feel his dedication, obsession, pain, and stress. His character hits roadblocks at every step in a case that is already frustrating. At times it truly feels like Fitz is on an island although he’s surrounded by the best and brightest in criminal justice. The family aspect of Fitz’s character doesn’t get a lot of screen time but through Worthington’s performance they are always felt.
Bettany transforms like never before. It doesn’t matter how little you care about the Unabomber story. If the script doesn’t win you over Bettany’s performance makes the whole thing worth it in itself. The mannerisms and speech pattern may not be 100% Kaczynski (they may be, only those close to him would know) but they are 100% Kaczynski for the purposes of this story. Nothing of Bettany shows through. With linguistics being such an intrical part of the real Unabomber case Bettany’s meticulous delivery is apparent and appreciated.
The technical aspects of the show are outstanding. The video is crisp and clear. The action moves across even the most modern screens without giving the strange ‘soap opera effect’ and the exposure is never too dark to tell exactly what’s going on. The recording is balanced through all eight episodes.
Although episodic Manhunt plays out like a movie. Being able to watch this continuously on Netflix enhances the thrill of the story.