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'No God, No Master' Movie Review

"No God, No Master" Movie Review: 2 Stars

by Robert Abele

Dreadfully earnest about its politics in the manner of John Sayles at his preachiest, the indie historical thriller "No God, No Master" draws a line from the civil unrest of 1920s anti-immigrant America to today's terror-besotted society that's so obvious, a freshman napping in social studies class couldn't miss it.


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Writer-director Terry Green packs his tale of exploding bombs, striking workers, anarchist cells and overreacting U.S. authorities with so many crisscrossing historical figures -- union-busting John D. Rockefeller, crackdown specialist J. Edgar Hoover, Industrial Workers of the World leader Carlo Tresca, even anarchists Nicola Sacco and Bartolomeo Vanzetti -- that it begins to play like an especially long dramatic re-enactment for a PBS documentary.

Which is a shame, because Green shows visual flair and has a pair of central protagonists (again, real-life) whose differing attitudes toward civil liberties merit a more focused dramatic two-hander: investigator and radicals expert William Flynn, an immigrant-sympathetic lawman played with moral gravitas by David Strathairn, and his boss, Atty. Gen. Mitchell Palmer (Ray Wise), who favored fighting subversion with mass arrests and deportation.

So much blandly sweeping, speechifying history and so little personalized dramatic focus turn "No God, No Master" into a series of issue-driven snapshots instead of something genuinely illuminating.

When a series of package bombs show up on the doorsteps of prominent politicians and businessmen in the summer of 1919, U.S. Bureau of Investigation Agent William Flynn (Strathairn) is assigned the task of finding those responsible.

He becomes immersed in an investigation that uncovers an anarchist plot to destroy democracy. Inspired by true events of the 20's the film sets the stage for a timely drama with resoundingly similar parallels to the contemporary war on terrorism and the role government plays to defeat it.

 

No MPAA rating. Running time: 1:34.

 

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