Review: No God No Master (The Melting Pot Boils Over)

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No God No Master does for New York in the teens what Midnight in Paris did for France in the 20s, but with more dignity and less “whimsy.” While the film is essentially a TV movie about the conflicts surrounding the “Palmer Raids” of late 1919/early 1920, writer/director Terry Green has tapped this period to build an urban western and an allegory for our modern war on terror. In this New York, immigrants struggle, barons rob and the Justice System invents branches to preside over the new and emerging nation—The Promised Land is many things before it's "free."

David Strathairm plays accented Investigator William Flynn, trained in bombs before “The Bureau” was built. When package bombs are found addressed to half the robber barons in the east, the Justice Department’s Mitchell Palmer (Ray Wise) leads Flynn to John Rockefeller (David Darlow) and corporate shill J. Edgar Hoover (Sean McNall), who represent a cabal in the ruling class with a special interest in suppressing immigrants. As head of a new branch, Hoover’s making a name with a list of “undesirables” the Justice Department aims to deport, citing suspicion of anarchy. Meanwhile, laborers strike, union meetings inspire distrust and Sacco and Vanzetti (James Madio and Alessandro Mario) vent about their impossible dreams of America. Hope and torment are at operatic levels here, but the celebrity is turned way down and the only name you’re likely to recognize is the marginally mentioned Hoover (though Emma Goldman (Mariann Mayberry) and Louise Berger (Mariana Klaveno) aren't strangers to the historical drama).

Strathairn delivers even canned lines like they’re fresh from the vine, and Ray Wise, as one of two characters without an accent, is again brilliant at being the most duplicitous man you can’t beat with common sense or a stick. Naturally it’s odd to see figures like Sacco and Vanzetti transformed into faces fit for trading cards, but then again, why not? Their history is as divisive as any competitive sport and they’re certainly icons of ideology and inspiration. In a bygone era when America was a hotbed of political debate and diversity of thought, the pressure between the classes was so tense it could forge a diamond. Like Ken Loach’s IRA drama The Wind That Shook The Barley, No God No Master inspects the onset of terrorism as if to prove there was no “first strike” but the prevailing stance is less interested in producing a verdict than proving the cycle belongs to no man and corrodes all. With any luck, this one will get around and do more than be a way for high school students to skip reading about the man who preceded Hoover to Head the FBI by four years and countless moral tales.

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