I’ve been on a historical dramas kick recently – which is somewhat unusual for me. While I enjoyed these epics when I was younger, I found them too slow moving in recent years…but something in me has suddenly lighted upon them again and here I am eagerly consuming one after another. With this said, I expect that those who are not fans of historical epics will find this film long and boring – but for those who are looking for a more measured, historical, and contemplative film – For Greater Glory is a great choice.
For Greater Glory tells the story of the Cristero War in Mexico during the late 1920’s. This war occurred between a strongly secularist government which was oppressing strenuously and often violently the Catholics in Mexico and numerous Catholics who formed into an army and fought for religious freedom.
Andy Garcia stars as Enrique Gorostieta Velarde, an atheist military commander who believes in religious freedom, and for a price, takes command of the Cristero army. Mauricio Kuri is introduced as young Jose – a troublemaker turned passionate follower of Christ after being taken under the wing of a friendly Catholic priest (played by Peter O’Toole) who is then executed before his eyes. Eduardo Verastegui (whom some may recall from the film Bella) plays Anacleto Gonzales Flores while Eva Longoria (best known for her role in Desperate Housewives) plays an interesting Cristero supporter – Tulita.
The cast is solid and plays their roles convincingly. The film is long – but not longer than it needed to be. The story is violent – though without profanity or sensuality. In some ways, it feels similar to Mel Gibson’s The Passion of the Christ in its gritty portrayal of a historical event.
Interestingly enough, the film was panned by critics, receiving only a 18% rating on the Tomatometer at Rotten Tomatoes but seemed widely appreciated by the general viewer who on Rotten Tomatoes offered an average rating of 77%. Wesley Morris’ review for Boston.com almost makes you want to see the movie to see if it could possibly be as bad as he describes (it isn’t) with soundbites like, “Some bad movies can make you feel awful for the people who made them and worse for the audience that shows up.” and “The movie’s length has little to do with vision, scope, or scale. The scenes just plod along without much to help distinguish them. It’s not an epic movie so much as an epic run-on sentence.”1Morris also insists that “President Plutarco Elias Calles (Rubén Blades) is almost personally overseeing the humiliation of a tiny foot soldier (Mauricio Kuri) in General Garcia’s army, and what happens to him is the closest the film comes to camp.” which makes me wonder if he watched the entire film – since never is Calles involved in the persecution of “the tiny foot soldier” – rather the little soldier is just another grape being trod in the massive vat of violence that is war and brutality.
Stephen Holden over at the NY Times offers a much more balanced review but notes at the end that even at a length of 143 minutes, ““For Greater Glory” cannot satisfyingly fill out the stories of a half-dozen secondary characters, and there are frustrating gaps in the biographies of Gorostieta and José. The jamming together of so much history and melodrama makes for a handsome movie that is only rarely gripping.” Sounds to me like perhaps this film would have been better treated as a mini-series? I certainly would have liked to have seen some of the secondary characters developed more – specifically, the non-violent wing of the resistance and also Tulita and other female supporter’s involvement in the war effort.
James P. Pinkerton offers an interesting analysis of the film and its implications for the (recent) US presidential election, highlighting several aspects of the film that might be interesting to viewers – such as its underlying funding by the Knights of Columbus (think Luther, but with Catholic instead of Lutheran backers). Some aspects of Pinkerton’s analysis make me uncomfortable – such as when he states, “So, as we think about the horrific drug-violence in Mexico today–which has left some 50,000 dead in five years–we might think back to the Cristero War, and recall with sadness that a jagged streak of bloody violence runs through Mexican history. Future scholars may or may not see much of a connection between the Cristero War and the Narco War, but they will inevitably link the narco-terror to tragic patterns in Mexican history, going all the way back to the Aztecs and before.” We can say that we can see the “jagged streak of bloody violence runs through human history” but to state that it runs through “Mexican history” seems to indicate a difference between Mexican history and our (pick your choice of nation) history. Certainly, a bloody streak runs through United States history! (Revolutionary War, Northwest Indian War, First Barbary War, Tecumseh’s War, War of 1812, Second Barbary War, First Seminole War, Arikara War, Winnebago War, Black Hawk War, Second Seminole War, Mexican-American War, Navajo Wars, Cayuse War, Apache Wars, Rogue River Wars, Puget Sound War, Third Seminoles War, Paiute War, American Civil War, Snake War, Red Cloud’s War, Comanche Campaign, Red River War, Black Hills War, Nez Perce War, Bannock War, Cheyenne War, White River War, Spanish-American War, Philippine Insurrection, Occupation of Nicaragua, Mexican Revolution, Occupation of Haiti, Occupation of the Dominican Republic, World War I, Russian Civil War, World War II, Korean War, Vietnam War, Iran-Iraq War, Invasion of Panama, Gulf War, Somali Civil War, Bosnian War, Kosovo War, War on Terror, Afghan War, Second Gulf War – and that is just a sampling!)