Running with the Devil sadly cuts short its focus on John McAfee before it ever gets interesting.
Published on September 22, 2022
Rating 2 /5
John McAffee is one of the weirdest men in the world of tech. His biography would put Steve Jobs and Bill Gates to shame. Known as the creator of McAfee antivirus software, John went from being a mogul of that software you now consider bloatware to an unhinged recluse. He would flee the country, talk openly about fears of security, and even go so far as killing his neighbor’s dog. In his twilight years, McAfee became a paranoid individual who went on the run from the law, fearing he’d be taken in by any government.
Running with the Devil: The Wild World of John McAfee covers this late period of John’s life. It features footage exclusively from his boat that he uses to travel the world and outsmart authorities. Or at least he thinks he does. The Vice documentarian covering this story finds himself caught between two theories about John: Either he really was a target for knowing too much or he was just too weird that he suspected dangers where there was little. At any rate, there was great danger in being around a man like McAfee, who openly spoke about shooting the cameraman if it meant his safety.
This is not a documentary for those coming in cold to the story of McAfee. It assumes you’re already familiar with this odd man and only briefly addresses his legacy from the antivirus guy to the weird dude you could rope into online videos if you played your cards right. That’s really a shame because John’s story is so bizarre that it would help to paint a fuller picture. Yet the filmmakers seem to think all this footage of John before his death is worth watching alone. While it is intriguing to see John from this angle where some more of his wild philosophy spills out onto the screen, it’s also lacking in some desperately needed perspective on the situation.
The truth is that this documented voyage starts off intriguing and ultimately peters out when the documenter reasons that this has gone on far enough. John’s paranoia reaches a point where there’s more fear of one’s self than what John is trying to achieve. John is a fugitive but not as much of a fugitive as he believes. He is dangerous though and anybody around him should probably be terrified considering how many guns he holds. The only person we get to know more about in the interviews of this footage is his final wife, an ex-prostitute who speaks about living with John beats struggling for cash by performing sex.
There’s a whole lot of potential left out of this film, becoming rawer than it should be. There’s rarely a moment where there’s greater contemplation on what John is trying to say in his meandering talks about life and freedom. There is an interesting mindset worth considering of how this man went from protecting computers against viruses to perhaps becoming a virus himself. Consider how John was originally a scammer before getting into the antivirus game, foreshadowing his eventual deceptions within his company when he lied about certain threats. What could’ve been an eye-opening documentary merely turns into a travelogue, where the documenter speaks more about wanting to leave than wanting to understand John.
Running with the Devil sadly cuts short its focus on John McAfee before it ever gets interesting. The documentary taps out early and becomes more interesting in testing the volition of the filmmakers than anything deeper that could be found within John. Even worse, the film seems to conclude that John was just a crazy guy with guns, simplifying his life too much. There’s even the bitter finale which highlights how McAfee might not be dead either. I’m not looking forward to that meandering documentary about trying to crack the case of McAfee faking his death, only to turn up nothing as the documentary nears its deadline.
Mark has been a professional film critic for over five years and a film lover all his life.