Almost one thousand moviegoers filled the Staller Center for the Arts main stage theatre for the sold out world premiere of No God, No Master to kick off the 17th Annual Stony Brook Film Festival on July 18.
No God, No Master tells the story of Agent William Flynn (David Strathairn), FBI bomb expert and all around “good guy” who is sent to conduct an investigation after a series of bombs are mailed to numerous U.S. officials and businessmen in 1919 New York. As his investigation progresses, Flynn is thrown into a world of government conspiracies and an anarchist plot to destroy democracy. He must determine how to proceed with his investigation when faced with corruption and moral dilemmas.
Strathairn gives what very well may be his best performance since his 2005 portrayal of journalistic legend Edward R. Murrow in Good Night, and Good Luck. His portrayal of Agent Flynn is very earnest, and he makes you really believe that he’s an honest FBI agent just trying his damndest to do some good in the world. Pair Strathairn’s performance with the sometimes seething portrayal of the dubious Attorney General A. Mitchell Palmer by veteran actor Ray Wise, and you’ve got something really special.
It’s clear that the film is meant to draw parallels with issues prevalent in today’s society, albeit nearly 100 years after the happenings of the film. Current events such as the war on terrorism, the patriot act, class warfare, as well as increasing and sometimes violent friction against immigrants by those that want them gone are all brought to mind by the film. Such implications were confirmed by the film’s director, Terry Green, after the screening, who believes that the film’s message may “hit close to home” for some.
Aside from a sepia-toned filter used throughout the entirety of the film (which I personally found a bit distracting at first), the film is shot and edited very well. There aren’t any fast jump cuts that you tend to see in a lot of independent films these days. A shot never lingers too long or too short, and everything flows extremely well to form a beautiful, cohesive package.
The attention to detail shown in the making of this film is also top notch. As a period piece, the production needed to employ the use of over 600 period-appropriate costumes, all of which fit perfectly into the world that the filmmakers have crafted. They used period-appropriate vernacular and slang, as well as having immigrants not speak flawless English, as ethnic folk tend to do in films nowadays. There is alsoa fair bit of dialogue that takes place between immigrants that is entirely in Italian with subtitles, really adding to the true-to-life atmosphere of the film.
The realistic feel and tone is carried throughout the film, including the few scenes of action present. Gunfights aren’t long or drawn out with those involved not having an infinite supply of ammunition. As such, these altercations have a tendency to end in a brutal, bare-knuckle brawl after everyone’s ammunition has been spent, and can be pretty violent at times. That brutality can be seen elsewhere, such as an interrogation scene later in the film that actually had several audience members around me visibly disturbed.
Even Flynn’s relationship with his immigrant neighbor Concetta (Andrea Grano) and her teenage son Tony is very realistic and believable, with the latter fostering a very real resentment for the man sitting at the head of the table, a spot once reserved for the boy’s now deceased father.
It’s easy to see that some people may be rubbed the wrong way by the message the film is trying to send, or be turned off by its dour tone or measured pace as opposed to the more frantically-paced blockbusters of today. However, the fact remains that No God, No Master is a wonderfully watchable film. My only hope is that it gets picked up by a good distributor in the near future so it can get the widespread attention that a film of this caliber deserves.