Wow, God Is a Bullet is violent. Teeth-kicked-out violent. And it’s Maika Monroe, slender, fragile Maika Monroe, who’s having her teeth kicked out. She also has her nose broken twice (at least) during the course of this long and almost relentlessly brutal film.
Not her, of course, but her character, Case, known as “Headcase” to the cackling, tattooed, wild-eyed members of the cult she used to belong to but has now left, no doubt in part on account of having had her teeth kicked out, nose broken etc etc
Rewind. Bob (Nikolaj Coster-Waldau), a smalltown cop, a “seat warmer” and “desk cowboy” as his partner disparagingly calls him, is galvanised into action when his daughter is abducted by this cult and, in a development that slots neatly into “odd-couple road-movie setup”, has soon joined up with Case in pursuit of his daughter and the bad guys. The god-fearing Christian policeman and the foul-mouthed young woman who was herself abducted by the same cult at around the same age as Bob’s daughter and then spent her teenage years in prostitution and addiction.
But first, so Bob won’t stand out too much, a visit to The Ferryman (Jamie Foxx), a one-armed, heavily inked tattoo artist and, in this movie, what passes for a sage. Bob has soon been inked and will now pass muster in a subculture where there’s a lot of the colour indigo.
The daughter is almost entirely forgotten for the rest of this odd film. Instead director/writer Nick Cassavetes focuses on these two, the straight edge and his resting-bitch-face companion as they hit the road to track down Cyrus (Karl Glusman), another canvas on which much tattoo ink has been scarily spread.
There’s no point going into more plot. Telling a story doesn’t seem to be Cassavetes’s intention. Instead what follows is more like a bad trip consisting of gangs and bikes, men with metal teeth, heavy rock music, heads and body parts being blown off, Satanism, rape, decomposing corpses, baths of blood, the excess piled on top of the gothic.
In a movie that superficially harks back to the 1990s and Tarantino’s first flowering, there’s also strong reminders of Charles Manson and the dark side of the 1960s, when freedom cost something and wasn’t always pretty. Or even further back, to the 16th-century Revenge Tragedy – known for their extreme violence, madness and characters who, on their quest for vengeance, often become as bad as the people they are pursuing.
Yes, that Nick Cassavetes, the director of The Notebook, who may be working through something here, possibly in an attempt to shuck off his reputation as a director of fragrant romances. I’m not sure how he’s going to integrate God Is a Bullet into his showreel, if he still needs to do that sort of thing, but hey.
Amid the fountains of blood and body parts blown asunder there is a big, mad performance by Karl Glusman as the psychotically unpleasant Cyrus, and another arrestingly unhinged one by Jonathan Tucker as his right hand man. Coster-Waldau hangs right back, as if trying to avoid infection, Monroe lets us know that while Case may be deranged, there’s still a trace of the sweet girl she once was, beneath the case-hardened (her name is literally Case Hardin) exterior.
It is all the way through borderline ridiculous and frequently funny, in an “oh, come on” way, but it’s never boring. Sure, you could lose 20 minutes towards the end (the Russian version comes in half an hour shorter, apparently) and it wouldn’t suffer too much.
I had a line ready when I started watching this – something about if god is a bullet then this is a dum-dum. But I can’t use it. This is a mad nonsense of a movie in many respects. It’s hard to defend. But I liked it. It goes all in. There’s even, for the old romantics, a moment near the end when everything pauses and Cassavetes does the equivalent of his Swan Lake moment in The Notebook. Which, in this context, is just all the madder.
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© Steve Morrissey 2023