God Is A Bullet


Reviewed by: Jennie Kermode

God Is A Bullet
"Maika Monroe is superb as always, showing that she can adapt to pretty much anything and make it believable. Her character is a basket of clichés but she gives her a distinct identity nonetheless." | Photo: Daniel Daza

There are certain types of narrative which have been massively overindulged in cinema and yet which we rarely see delivered today with any kind of commitment. They flourish in pulp novels like Boston Teran’s God Is A Bullet (better written than most of its ilk and so fairly successful) and crude versions populate the straight-to-video archives. The fantasy of a male-centred plot based on the rape, murder and kidnap of poor helpless women is clearly problematic, so if a film is going to get away with it and retain any pretence of artistic vision then it needs three things: great characters, visual flair and enough self-belief to overcome the silliness of it all. Nich Cassavetes’ latest effort has a lot of problems, but just about pulls this off.

Cassavetes’ biggest asset is his actors. Nikolai Coster-Waldau struggles a little with the more prim aspects of his character, detective-turned-vigilante Bob Hightower, but one imagines that most actors would – it’s difficult to marry the smug moralising of this strangely sheltered man with the background he lays claim to. Coster-Waldau settles into the role as that character shifts and ultimately manages a good balance of toughness and tenderness which gives Bob more depth than most of his ilk. As Case, the former cult member who agrees to assist him (having reasons of her own to want vengeance on the people who killed his ex-wife and took his daughter), Maika Monroe is superb as always, showing that she can adapt to pretty much anything and make it believable. Her character is a basket of clichés but she gives her a distinct identity nonetheless.

Also worth mentioning here is Jamie Foxx, who plays a taciturn tough guy ex-cult member living out in the middle of nowhere. He doesn’t get a lot to do, but contributes the sense of presence which films like this very much depend on, and which few of them get.

This is the kind of onscreen universe in which bad guys helpfully wear leather and have tattoos (though it’s not clear how the cult members distinguish one another rom everybody else who looks like this). To convince them that he’s a bad guy too, and to show the audience just how determined he is, Bob gets extensive tattooing done across his upper body. The film firmly establishes its disinterest in realism by having him walk around without bandages directly thereafter and have no apparent problems with infection despite all the dirt he subsequently gets in them and the frequency with which he is injured. Over the course of the film he is beaten, shot and stabbed and even bitten by a rattlesnake, which latter creates a neat excuse for a hallucinatory sequence in which he confronts some of his demons.

Case has lived this life before. She gets similar treatment, along with experiencing sexual violence, but it makes less impression on her, perhaps partly because she’s preoccupied with trying to keep Bob alive. Although there is inevitably a developing romantic interest towards the end, for much of the running time her attitude towards him is more that of a nervous pet owner, and this helps to mitigate some of the misogyny inherent in the genre. Convenient sidekick though she may be, Case has agency and makes her own decisions. She refuses to be shamed and never lapses into helplessly smitten love interest mode, whilst he comes to see her as a human being rather than an exotic fantasy.

The film is far too long. Cassavetes doesn’t seem to have understood that whilst short stories and novellas can be lifted directly onto the screen, with a novel, something’s got to go. A subplot involving some of Bob’s fellow detectives might have made a neat little film in itself but could easily have been excised here, and a more streamlined central narrative would have had a lot more impact. We need to stay focused on Bob’s adventures in order to suspend disbelief and avoid noticing how ridiculous it all is. A fair bit of his journey could have been usefully cut out as well, whilst retaining the important structures of the plot.

So what about style? Here Cassavetes benefits from some spectacular desert locations which he resists the temptation to dress up too much. He also makes use of various types of ruined building, flooding in some neons when he wants to create the kind of bad guy bazaar where extreme violence can be doled out casually without getting much attention. The final showdown is a bit (more) nonsensical in that it takes place in a setting which looks stunning but in which any villain with half a brain would have solved his problem using a sniper. That said, by this point it has been fairly well established that Cyrus (Karl Glusman) is not well endowed in the brain department, getting by instead on sneering charisma and the fact that his followers depend on accepting some kind of leader in order to avoid wiping each other out.

Suitably gritty and moody in atmosphere, even if it gives the impression of having sprung from the fevered imagination of a Fifties conservative who fancied a walk on the wild side, God Is A Bullet plays it straight enough to appeal to genre fans whilst offering a kind of kitsch appeal to others. It’s excessive in every way, always ready to empty the whole magazine, and its gloriously clunky dialogue suits its pulp origins to a tee. Coster-Waldau and Monroe seem unaware of this, however, carefully pitching their performances as if starring in something transcendental, artful enough that they almost get away with it.

Reviewed on: 22 Jun 2023
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God Is A Bullet packshot
When a vice detective finds his ex-wife murdered and his daughter kidnapped by a Satanic cult, he quits the police force, gets tattoos and infiltrates the cult to hunt down its charismatic leader, with the help of a recovering drug addict who has an agenda of her own.

Director: Nick Cassavetes

Writer: Nick Cassavetes, Boston Teran

Starring: Nikolaj Coster-Waldau, Maika Monroe, Jamie Foxx, January Jones, Ethan Suplee, Jonathan Tucker, Paul Johansson

Year: 2023

Runtime: 155 minutes

Country: Mexico, US


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