“No God No Master,” at the Milwaukee Film Festival
Shot in Milwaukee, the look of the city is transformed to a different time, but "No God No Master" spends too much time on the political soapbox.
No God, No Master is a film that has no reservations about discarding entertainment and piling high onto a soapbox in order to bear witness to injustice. Watching the film feels like stumbling into an Occupy Wall Street protest and being harangued by a multitude of different causes that don’t seem to have a clear center. Of course, a film should have something to say, but this one is too heavy with the pamphlets and a little too light on the butter.
The film has a pulpy taste to it: what starts out as your basic 1920’s cops-and-robbers plot soon turns into a series of dupes and double crosses that leave Flynn struggling to keep up. Strathairn subverts any film noir tough guy tactics and plays the role as straight and dull as an endless grocery line.
He starts out investigating a series of brown paper mail bombs (that he conveniently knows how to defuse), and follows the clues all the way to a violent anarchist agitator. Sure, Flynn gets into a few rollicking fist fights and makes a convincing death threat along the way, but he never has any gusto about it. His character goes about his detective work with a bored, business-as-usual attitude, a choice that had a two-fold effect: I didn’t care if he solved the crime, and I didn’t care what happened to him. Even during a character defining speech near the end of the film—a real chance for him to leave an impression—he remains blasé. A hokey subplot concerning Flynn’s relationship with his dead partner’s wife did little to humanize him or elicit my interest.
Maybe director Terry Green didn’t want to focus too much on plot or character development because he wanted to make a film about the issues. Green really lays all his cards on the table about this matter, saying in an interview, “We’re trying to do everything we can to mirror modern politics and contemporary events.”
About half-way through the film it becomes pretty clear that this desire to parallel our current political situation is Green’s only interest. Green is transparent with his political leanings, and he leaves a whole lot of them out to dry. The film covers labor unions, immigration, government corruption, police corruption, and a sort of Occupy Wall Street/the rich control the country diatribe. Not exactly the stuff that detective films are made of.
Now, I’m not trying to debate these issues, and I can appreciate a political film as much as the next guy. The problem here is that the plot falls apart under the weight of all the finger-wagging and preaching.
What began as a Raymond Chandler novel ended as a political slam ad on YouTube. Green certainly chose historical events that were ripe with timely allegorical potential, but in the end he cared more about giving me a good talking to than showing me a good time.
No God No Master screens at the Milwaukee Film Festival on Sunday, Oct. 7, at the Oriental Theatre,and on Tuesday, Oct. 9, at the Fox-Bay Cinema on Tuesday, Oct. 9, at 7:15 p.m.
The Milwaukee Film Festival runs through Oct. 11 at the Oriental Theatre, Downer Theatre and Fox-Bay Cinema. Check out TCD’s Flick by Flick guides for films opening this weekend and throughout October. For more information, visit the MFF website.