God Is a Bullet
2023, R, 155 min. Directed by Nick Cassavetes. Starring Nikolaj Coster-Waldau, Maika Monroe, Chloe Guy, Karl Glusman, Jamie Foxx, Jonathan Tucker, January Jones.
REVIEWED By Richard Whittaker, Fri., June 23, 2023
Nikolaj Coster-Waldau may still be best known as Game of Thrones' hopeless romantic, Jaime Lannister, but he's often at his best in bleak and morally murky dramas like Shot Caller and Headhunters. Yet even in his résumé, there's something particularly bleak and unsettling about God Is a Bullet, Nick Cassavetes' adaptation of Boston Teran's 2011 novel about cultists and cops.
It's a far remove from the actor and director's last collaboration, 2014 pre-#MeToo revenge rom-com The Other Woman, in which Coster-Waldau played a lothario who gets the comeuppance he deserves for his philandering ways. Revenge is in the agenda here as well, but of a much more horrific bent.
The film comes with an "inspired by true events" tag, although it's far removed from the Charlie Manson inspirations that Teran (yes, that is a nom de plume) wove in. The book was set in a septic, putrid, arid, post-Helter Skelter hellscape, but Cassavetes' Satanic panic America is even more decayed and corrupt. Not that this is some conservative reactionary flick about the libs trying to make off with your kids – although there is a child abduction. Cyrus (a suitably disgusting Glusman) has been running his tattooed Satanic cult for years, kidnapping young girls and using them to whatever ends fit his whims. Satan's just an excuse, as escaped cult member "Head" Case Hardin (the perpetually excellent Monroe) tells the straitlaced, iron-spined, and god-fearing Detective Bob Hightower (Coster-Waldau). They're on a trajectory straight back to Cyrus – he to rescue his kidnapped daughter, Gabi (Guy), she to right some wrongs and maybe help Bob's baby girl avoid becoming what she has become.
But becoming is at the core of God Is a Bullet, in this case exactly what Hightower must become to save his daughter, save Case, and maybe even save himself. It's linear and simple, and what makes Cassavetes and Teran's narrative so impactful is that everyone knows the cost: The only question is how long the path of denial is. That Hightower initially believes that all it will take is a few tattoos and acting the part is what makes Coster-Waldau such a fascinating choice for the part. He embodies something stoic and upright that has to be fractured – not by external forces but by self-actualization and self-realization. God Is a Bullet soon becomes the most disturbing self-improvement story ever. If such journeys are about becoming attuned to existence, then God Is a Bullet finds that the universe resonates in a miserable, minor chord.
Like Mandy on cheap crank rather than homemade psychedelics, God Is a Bullet is a languorous road trip, interspersed with bouts of extreme and grisly violence. Cassavetes takes his time on this path to revenge, as the "heroes" cross paths with a panoply of freaks and weirdos (none weirder than Foxx as the Ferryman, a one-armed fixer and philosopher, or more entertaining than Tucker as constantly irritated dealer Errol). So even when he pulls you to the bloody showdown, it's with no sense of catharsis, not in a place where God and the Devil are both just cover stories for human foibles. Some subplots evade resolution, especially a bleak excursion into exactly what happened the night of the abduction, and a sidebar involving Hightower's ex-wife (Jones) that probably made more sense in the book. But the resolute commitment to finding tiny sparks of hope in a pitch-black cosmos yields its own bitter and oddly warming reward.