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Review: 'No God, No Master' turns history into preachy exercise

In 'No God, No Master,' writer-director Terry Green spins an overly earnest tale of civil unrest in the U.S.

April 10, 2014|By Robert Abele
  • A scene from "No God No Master."
A scene from "No God No Master." (Handout )

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.

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 reenactment 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.


"No God, No Master"

MPAA rating: none

Running time: 1 hour, 34 minutes

Playing: At Downtown Independent, Los Angeles


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