John McAfee was a strange, eccentric figure, who helpfully allowed cameras to chronicle almost every beat of his frenzied, paranoia-filled flight from the authorities. Yet “Running With the Devil: The Wild World of John McAfee” suffers from zooming in too close on its subject, leaving a documentary that’s chaotic and exhausting but offers less enlightenment than a more sober approach might have yielded.
Director Charles Russell draws upon footage shot by Vice reporter Rocco Castoro and cameraman Robert King beginning in 2012, when they joined up with the wealthy antivirus software pioneer (whose company bears his name) while he was on the run from law enforcement in Belize, suspected in the murder of his neighbor, Gregory Faull. To reinforce how bonkers everything here is, their dispute had centered on McAfee’s dogs barking at Faull’s pet parrot.
With ample money, guns and drugs at his disposal (which sounds like a Warren Zevon song), McAfee spent the next several years as what he calls as a seasoned “flight risk.” In between, he somehow found time to mount a Libertarian Party candidacy for president, publicly refuse to pay his taxes and insist that he was being targeted by drug cartels, without any evidence.
McAfee is introduced with his much-younger girlfriend Sam (who is interviewed later), before the narrative abandons that part of the story about halfway through, picking up with McAfee again about five years later, in 2019, as he lurches from one crisis to the next.
Russell clearly wants to use the grainy footage and up-close-and-personal exposure to McAfee’s ramblings to replicate a sense of the man himself, but there’s only so far that can go without weaving more useful context into the mix. Instead, “Running With the Devil” detours to tell the stories of those who followed McAfee around, which adds little to the larger plot beyond providing a temporary respite from McAfee’s lunacy.
Those who even distantly followed McAfee’s tale know it didn’t end well, culminating with his arrest in Spain and suicide in 2021. Yet Russell’s attempt to provide what amounts to an unfiltered snapshot of this bizarre character without fleshing out the details becomes a case study in heat without light and the limits of that stylistic choice.
In the latter part of the film, the roster of sort-of narrators expands to include Alex Cody Foster, a self-described ghostwriter who hung out with McAfee and recorded extensive interviews with him.
“Maybe he was a murderer, but I just love good stories,” Foster says.
McAfee was clearly many things, and yes, a murderer might have been one of them. “Running With the Devil” can be forgiven for opting not to bother bogging down a juicy yarn by wrestling with the morality of the man, but as presented, it’s simply too much of a mess to even qualify as a good story.
“Running With the Devil: The World of John McAfee” premieres Aug. 24 on Netflix.