GOD IS A BULLET movie poster | @2023 XYZ Films

GOD IS A BULLET movie poster | @2023 XYZ Films

Rating: Not Rated
Stars: Nicolas Coster-Waldau, Maïka Monroe, Karl Glusman, Chloe Guy, January Jones, Paul Johansson, David Thornton, Jonathan Tucker, Ethan Suplee, Brendan Sexton, Garrett Wareing, Gina Cassavetes, Jamie Foxx
Writer: Nick Cassavetes, based on the novel GOD IS A BULLET by Boston Teran
Director: Nick Cassavetes
Distributor: XYZ Films
Release Date: June 23, 2023

We can tell the kind of movie GOD IS A BULLET aspires to be: a serious drama about faith vs. nihilism, wrapped in the form of a gritty action thriller, with some Elmore Leonard-style crime threaded through it.

Directed and scripted by Nick Cassavetes, adapted from Boston Teran’s novel of the same name, GOD IS A BULLET undeniably has all of those elements. It’s just that they don’t quite fit together here, nor is the drama on par with the considerable bloody violence.

At the outset, we see a young teenaged girl kidnapped from outside a market by a small group of heavily tattooed men and one woman.

Then we meet Mint police detective Bob Hightower (Nicolaj Coster-Waldau). Bob’s boss, John Lee Bacon (Paul Johansson), patronizingly makes no secret of the fact that he considers Bob to be a “desk jockey.”

Bob is divorced from his now-remarried ex-wife, but devoted to their fourteen-year-old daughter Gabi (Chloe Guy). One night around Christmas, Bob pulls up behind the house to call Gabi on her cell, so they can talk without him having to come into the house. We can hear Gabi’s mom and stepdad arguing in the kitchen.

But by the time Gabi has gotten off the phone, the argument has stopped. The same group of tattooed maniacs that we saw in the opening sequence have slipped inside. They proceed to beat, rape (in the mother’s case), and murder Gabi’s mom and stepdad, and then kidnap Gabi.

This is the first of a number of “wait a minute” moments in GOD IS A BULLET. Isn’t Bob a detective? How does he completely not notice activity going on at the front of the house? It’s not out of the question, but since we’re not meant to view Bob as incompetent, the story would have lost zero momentum if a few hours had passed between his drop-by and the attack.

When Bob goes back to the house the next day, discovers the bodies, and sees that Gabi is missing, he is of course horrified. And here we have another “wait a minute” moment. Law officers are not supposed to involve themselves in cases involving family members. Instead of pointing out this reality (which would serve the same plot function), John Lee tells Bob he just thinks Bob lacks what it takes. This isn’t John Lee trying to goad Bob, it’s just meant to show Bob has thus far not made a big impression on anybody, and maybe that John Lee is really insensitive.  

Meanwhile, heavily tattooed and bleached-blonde Case Hardin (Maika Monroe) is at a rehab facility/shelter, still recovering what appears to be cold turkey from addiction.

In flashback, we see that Case was once a member of the tattooed gang. Despite physical punishment that would terrify many people into submission (and likely land them in the hospital), Case’s determination gets her away from this vicious band and their sadistic, hot-tempered leader, Cyrus (Karl Glusman).

Six weeks after the murder/kidnapping, Case reads about the crime in the newspaper, figures out who’s responsible, and reaches out to the Mint police department. John Lee doesn’t want to take this ex-junkie seriously, but Bob does.

Despite a healthy amount of distrust and philosophical difference, Bob and Case hit the road together. Bob wants to rescue Gabi; Case, despite her cynicism and atheism, wants redemption.

Where it goes from here is essentially two people – one of them new to shooting, stabbing, etc. – up against better-armed adversaries, who eventually coalesce into a small army.

This is a completely fine premise, and one that has been the basis of many fine films. But GOD IS A BULLET also wants to be profound (one clue is the title). Theoretically, there’s nothing wrong with this, either. Plenty of great movies are extremely profound.

But we never see either Bob or Case’s initial beliefs as part of what’s happening. Bob offers reflexive, surface judgment on what he thinks is Case’s background; Case gives rote objections to organized religion and how its adherents often don’t practice what is preached. This doesn’t give us much insight into either character beyond what we’ve already seen.

As for the villains, they are described as Satanists. Actual Satanists will likely object. This aside, we get what seems to be a drug-and-prostitution racket with very little internal coherence, let alone ideology. Are they just mocking religion overall? Do they think what they’re doing gives them power? Or is it all just theater?

Cyrus and his followers are horrendous individuals, but even human monsters have their reasons. In a film with a runtime of over two-and-a-half hours, it seems like we ought to hear a few of these.

Monroe is excellent as the despondent Case. Coster-Waldau seems a little too knowing for Bob’s initial softness, but wholly up to the demands of the character once he’s in the field. Glusman is fearlessly maniacal as Cyrus. Jamie Foxx is appropriately enigmatic in a supporting role.

GOD IS A BULLET is best viewed as a contemporary shoot-and-cut-and-blow-‘em-up outing. The rest hangs together, but it’s not detailed, plausible or lively enough to either integrate with or balance the outrageous revenge splatter.

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