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‘No God, No Master’: Anarchist bomb drama lights too many fuses

David Straithairn plays federal agent explosives expert 'No God No Master.'  |  MONTEREY MEDIA

David Straithairn plays a federal agent and explosives expert in "No God, No Master." | MONTEREY MEDIA

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William Flynn David Straithairn

A. Mitchell Palmer Ray Wise

Eugenio Ravarini Sam Witwer

Monterey Media presents a film written and directed by Terry Green. Running time: 94 minutes. In English and Italian with English subtitles. Rated PG-13 (for some acts of violence). Opens Saturday at Facets Cinematheque.

Updated: May 26, 2014 6:13AM

Writer and director Terry Green attempts to capture a fascinating chapter of American history in “No God, No Master,” a film set in 1919 that focuses on an anarchist uprising and Attorney General A. Mitchell Palmer’s determination to round up “undesirable” immigrants and deport them.

Pulled into this fray is William J. Flynn (David Strathairn), an agent and bomb expert for the U.S. Bureau of Investigation (pre-FBI) assigned by Palmer (Ray Wise) to investigate a series of package bombs sent to prominent politicians and business leaders. Flynn and his partner, Eugenio Ravarini (Sam Witwer), unravel the terrorist plot while also immersing themselves in the demands of the burgeoning labor movement organizing around the rights of immigrant workers.

Morally conflicted, Flynn is sympathetic to the innocent people — men, women and children — facing deportation at the hands of Palmer (“Freedom isn’t a right; it’s a commodity”) and his assistant John Hoover (“I prefer J. Edgar”). There’s a lot of back-and-forth idealistic lecturing on both sides. The result is a dry historical thriller that even a fine actor like Strathairn can’t save.

Filmed in Milwaukee, “No God, No Master” has an authentic period feel. But Green is focused on so many historical figures and potential storylines that the film feels rushed and, at times, confusing. In addition to the main plotline, there also are barely developed threads that involve the arrest and trial of immigrant laborers Sacco and Vanzetti, the organization of early labor unions and a romantic relationship between Flynn and his neighbor, a single mother with a not-too-friendly son who may or may not be falling into the clutches of the anarchists.

Fans of Chicago theater will find a couple of familiar faces among the cast: Steppenwolf Theatre ensemble member Mariann Mayberry as a fiery Emma Goldman and Remy Bumppo Theatre member David Darlow as an imperious John D. Rockefeller Sr.

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