Saturday, 3 July 2021

Movie Review: No God, No Master (2013)

A crime drama inspired by real events, No God, No Master tackles too many stories with a blunt mindset, and succeeds at none.

It's 1919 in New York City, and tension is mounting between union organizers and wealthy industrialists, made worse by friction between Italian and Irish immigrants. Parcel bombs start appearing on door steps, claiming the life of an innocent kid. Bureau of Investigation Agent William Flynn (David Strathairn) and his partner Eugenio Ravarini (Sam Witwer) start investigating, but when prominent citizens including John D. Rockfeller are targeted with more bombs, Attorney General Mitchell Palmer (Ray Wise) and a young J. Edgar Hoover get personally involved.

Meanwhile shoemaker Nicola Sacco and labourer/writer Bartolomeo Vanzetti share anarchist tendencies inspired by radical leader Luigi Galleani and the left-wing magazine edited by Emma Goldman. Flynn finds his investigative progress stymied by Palmer and Hoover, who appear fixated on a mass immigrant deportation agenda. Meanwhile Flynn's friend and neighbour Concetta is worried her son Tony is being sucked into the unfolding chaos.

An independent production written, directed and produced by Terry Green, No God, No Master does feature pleasing visuals of New York City in the early 20th century. Green creates a beguiling sense of time and place, and the set designs and costumes are elegant. As the world-weary Flynn, a typically dependable David Strathairn is another plus.

But the rest of the film is a clumsy disappointment. Early and often, Green firmly parks his sympathies with the little people to the detriment of any nuanced exploration of issues. Anarchists, immigrants and unionists are all romanticized poets, intellectuals and just cause advocates fighting the good fight against profit-thirsty capitalists and heartless government types. The blatant propaganda undermines any attempt at thought-provoking entertainment.

The ham-fisted approach may have been more tolerable with refined storytelling, but in an uncouth script several drafts away from the necessary polish, Green bites off more than he can chew. The parcel bomb investigation gets hopelessly lost, the Sacco-Vanzetti sub-plot is half-baked at best, and an action sequence featuring a kidnapping and bullet-riddled rescue unravels due to bewildering levels of incomprehension.

In an unfortunate epitaph, No God, No Master ends with several screens of small text attempting to provide context and resolution to the scattered ideas left hanging. The domestic terrorism events of the early twentieth century deserve better cinematic scrutiny than this.



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