Movie Review: Running with the Devil – The Wild World of John McAfee

If you own a computer, chances are you’ve heard of the name McAfee – now best known as an antivirus programme. Whichever way you pronounce the name, it belongs to John McAfee, who started McAfee Associates in 1987 before leaving the anti-virus software company in 1994.

In 2011, McAfee Antivirus was acquired by chip-maker Intel for about $7.68 billion before selling a majority stake in its cyber security division to TPG Capital in 2017 for $4.2 billion. In its latest acquisition the company returned to private equity in a deal valued at $14 billion.

Known for starting McAfee Antivirus, Running with the Devil: The Wild World of John McAfee unpacks the eccentric man’s escape from Belize in the Caribbean after being implicated in the murder of neighbour, Gregory Faull. While the murder remains unsolved to this day, McAfee’s altercation, intoxication, livewire personality and man-on-the-run stunt make it seem more than just a coincidence.

There’s a reason hackers get hired to reinforce cybersecurity systems and there may have been a similar undercurrent in McAfee’s creation of the computer security company. Having made his fortune in the PC world, McAfee intimates that in creating his wealth in computer security, he stumbled upon many secrets and created enemies in the cartel and upper echelons of the US government.

He relocated to the island paradise probably in a bid to begin again and enjoy every freedom possible… beyond the limitations of the American Dream. Making every effort to integrate himself into his new society, it appears that his escape was motivated by more than just finger-pointing in what is believed to be an act of revenge.

running with the devil john mcafee film

“Allow myself to introduce… myself.”

Picking up the story in the aftermath of this crime, McAfee decided to document his escape from his island paradise in Belize to Guatemala and beyond. Commandeering a brave Vice journalist and former war photographer to capture his rundown, the international news story drew a great deal of press with the behind-the-scenes footage detailing their exclusive misadventures – from faux pas to crazy interactions with local authorities. Director Charlie Russell has rehashed thousands of hours of footage from the original production to craft McAfee’s larger-than-life tale of espionage and deception.

It seems more than a coincidence that Running with the Devil shares its title with the Nicolas Cage film. As the documentary unfurls, Cage seems like he may be the only Hollywood wild card able to capture the true essence of John McAfee. Okay, besides John C. McGinley. Gathering tidbits of biographical data from the freelancers hired to document his escape and ghost write his story, this nutty documentary offers a chronological exploration of the events leading to his last days as a free man.

Living like a rock star on the run, the madness, money, excess, guns and drugs recall The Wolf of Wall Street as McAfee’s adventures move from an island mansion to a yacht. Over 65 and on a continual hedonistic binge, backroom footage finds a trail of booze, guns and drugs with McAfee perpetually accompanied by a young impressionable woman. His live life loud attitude shows a man constantly pushing boundaries, embracing his paranoia and perpetually trying to escape reality.

Running with the Devil: The Wild World of John McAfee offers viewers a vicarious experience in the mind of McAfee. It’s fueled by the excitement of the chase, the ever-present threat of McAfee’s would-be assailants catching up with him or the madman’s inevitable confession to his deer-in-the-headlights camera crew. Getting an inside perspective of McAfee’s world-building, this documentary straddles between the realm of true crime and pulp fiction.

While entertaining in its wild, attention-grabbing and unpredictable nature – this documentary is equally frustrating in the slow-creep feeling of getting lost in Wonderland. A quick immersion into this escapade is anchored by its naïve journalist and cameraman team, who expound on their eye-opening and even foolhardy endeavour. What starts to become abundantly clear is that while it seems like there’s progress, it’s a matter of taking two steps forward and one step back.

john mcafee

“…and this one’s a snap of my fiancée and I on the run from authorities.”

Trying to get clarity on McAfee, his former company, biographical detail, the circumstances surrounding the murder, the target on his back and his perpetual need to stay on the run… eventually seems futile. A mirage, the documentary gets you close enough to think you see something but then it vanishes, offering the momentum to suggest more focus only to realise another horizon and greater messiness.

The clues are all in the title, comparing McAfee’s devil-may-care exploits, hedonistic lifestyle and twisting the truth to the devil himself. This enigmatic quality keeps the mystery of John McAfee intriguing but the superfluous half-truths and half-answers do begin to emulate being stuck in a whirlpool. As wild and insane as things get, the constant circling of the drain remains as interviewees reveal just how little they actually do know about anything in spite of being trusted confidants.

Running with the Devil baits audiences with a slow-build to substance but the snowball melts as quickly as it gathers. Edited to offer a comedic slant, leaning on the eye witness account of a man in dungarees, this documentary encapsulates much of our fascination with Nicolas Cage – whose wild-eyed characters lure us into whatever quest he’s on with panache and wink-wink charm. It’s this gleefully over-the-top, self-propelled kind of crazy entertainer that sustains this scrapbook of a documentary.

Running with the Devil captures the wild excesses of The Wolf of Wall Street and latches onto the tabloid fodder and jet-setting true crime fugitive vibrations of The Tinder Swindler. It’s a blast of wild entertainment that puts a face to a name and charges full steam ahead with a destination unknown swagger.

While this tirade is compelling and intriguing, its limitations make it so vapid it almost swings the real focus on the primary interviewee, key witness and man with the camera. His dungarees, daredevil history and Exit Through the Gift Shop life experience offer glimmers of the curious and colourful reality sadly lacking in McAfee’s narcissistic delusions of grandeur and shaky house-of-cards legacy. Moving from introspective and gutsy guerilla documentary to the point of façade, the documentary’s so evasive it barely leaves an impression, ending on an equally frustrating Elvis ellipsis.

The bottom line: Evasive

splingometer 6