For Greater Glory

Directed By: Dean Wright

Starring: Andy Garcia, Eva Longoria, Eduardo Verástegui, Peter O'Toole, Bruce Greenwood, Oscar Isaac, and Nestor Carbonell

Religious tolerance has been a major issue throughout all of human history.  Nobody wants to be told by anyone else what to believe or what not to believe.  People want religious freedom (at least for themselves).  Nonetheless, what history remembers most often concerns those who are persecuted and denied the right to believe in what they choose.  There are plenty of times throughout history when this has taken place.  The most notable example is the large numbers of early Christians who were persecuted and martyred when the Roman Empire was at its peak.  There are more recent examples in the last century or so that have been largely forgotten.  In the early twentieth century, Mexico denied Catholics around the nation of their religious freedom.  The film For Greater Glory revisits this historic atrocity.

In 1917, Mexican President Plutarco Elías Calles (Rubén Blades) begins enforcing anti-Catholic provisions of the new Constitution.  In enforcing these new laws, he effectively declares war with the Catholic Church.  He exiles foreign clergymen, burns down churches, and murders priests and their congregations in cold blood.  Naturally, protests, boycotts, and a rebellion ensue.  These attempts to promote religious freedom only further Calles's resolve in enforcing his laws.  Meanwhile, US ambassador Dwight Morrow (Bruce Greenwood) gets involved to keep American interests at the forefront of Calles's mind.

The clergy in Mexico react to the new laws in starkly different ways.  While younger priests like Father Vega (Santiago Cabrera) want to fight to overthrow Calles, older, more pacifistic priests such as Father Christopher (Peter O'Toole) prefer to peacefully disagree with the Mexican President.  Ultimately, Father Vega becomes part of the rebellion and becomes known as the "Priest-General".  He helps to lead a group of rebels known as the Cristeros.  Father Christopher is eventually shot and killed at close range by Calles's forces in front of 13-year-old José Sánchez del Rio (Mauricio Kuri).

The new laws also provoke varied reactions from all citizens within Mexico, regardless of their age, race, or faith.  After witnessing the vicious murder of Father Christopher and seeing many other atrocities first-hand, José Sánchez del Rio goes to serve as part of the Cristero forces against the wishes of his padrino Mayor Picazo (Nestor Carbonell).  He wants to help in any way that he can to get Calles out of office and his unjust laws repealed.  On the other hand, military veteran Enrique Gorostieta (Andy Garcia) doesn't mind sitting on the sidelines.  When he is asked to organize and lead the Cristero Army, his wife Tulita (Eva Longoria) thinks this will be an opportunity to help him find his own faith.  He's just tired of manufacturing pink soap for a living and wants to get back on the battlefield.

With any movie about a major historical event, there's a rich story to be told.  Director Dean Wright and his actors completely drop the ball though in bringing this story to life on the big screen.  Wright glosses over a very rich story.  He strangely creates an almost cheerful tone in the midst of immense tragedy with a light, vibrant score and bright cinematography.  Because the movie doesn't feel as serious as it should be, the film resembles the propaganda films of old, and that just doesn't work for the movie.  For Greater Glory is painfully long with a runtime of nearly two and a half hours. 

As the Cristeros themselves say, war is no place for bums.  Wright apparently didn't get the message.  He seems to be in the business of only casting actors who give bad performances.  As Enrique Gorostieta, Andy Garcia tries to coast through the role by being Andy Garcia.  That's not enough to be a general in battle.  That’s not enough to be the star of a war movie.  He brings no depth or authenticity to his character.  Eva Longoria doesn't add much to the film either as his character’s wife.  Combine this with a bunch of B-list and telenovela actors who comprise the supporting cast and you get anything but a decent performance.  Instead of world-class actors, we get a bunch of bums.

It's hard to make a bad war movie.  Somehow, Dean Wright manages to do so with For Greater Glory.  The story is there.  The execution is not.  For Greater Glory gets a wasted rating.  Make the film an interactive experience and have a shot of tequila any time someone does so on screen.  You'll need them to get through this one.