By Bill Wine
KYW Newsradio 1060
PHILADELPHIA (CBS) — Now here’s something you don’t see every day: a faith-based action flick.
Interesting hybrid, but would that it were more compelling and engaging.
For Greater Glory, based on a little-known chapter of Mexican history, is a historical military drama about the preservation of religious freedom.
It focuses on the clash between church and state in the late 1920s, at a time when Mexico’s anti-clerical laws of a decade before — contained in the nation’s 1917 constitution — were being rigorously enforced and religious rights were being systematically stripped away.
The virtual purging of the Catholic Church was now mandated in Mexico.
Which precipitated the “Cristero War,” lasting from 1926 to 1929, a people’s rebellion (Cristeros translates as “soldiers for Christ”) involving devout Mexican Catholics as revolutionaries who arose in opposition to the Mexican government’s persecution of Catholics, pitting an army of devout Catholic rebels, the Cristeros, against powerful government forces, the Federales.
At a time of strong anti-Catholic sentiments, with state law demanding that churches be closed, previously relatively benign encroachments upon religious freedom suddenly developed into much more sinister actions, as bishops and priests were targeted, rounded up, and deported or even killed.
Andy Garcia stars as General Gorostieta, an agnostic who believes in religious freedom. Retired but restless, the career soldier overcomes his initial reluctance to get involved and, once he and his observant Catholic wife (played by Eva Longoria) experience Mexico’s fall into violent civil war, comes out of retirement to lead the resistance by helping to train the ragtag band of fighters into a viable military force in its opposition to the military machine fighting for repressive Mexican president Plutarco Calles, played by Ruben Blades.
The supporting cast includes Bruce Greenwood as the US ambassador to Mexico, Peter O’Toole as a venerable parish priest, and Bruce McGill as US president Calvin Coolidge.
Debuting director Dean Wright, an accomplished visual effects supervisor, lacks the skill at this point to corral all the elements and hone the production values so that the film’s second hour does more than just play itself out.
The exposition-heavy, grindingly repetitive screenplay by Michael James Love, offering too much speechifying and breadth instead of depth as it explores its themes of faith and liberty, crams plenty of historical data and far too many incidental characters to keep track of into its bloated running time, but fails to generate much emotional power.
While it may not be intended as heavy-handed propaganda, much of it plays that way.
Whether For Greater Glory will resonate with modern audiences who feel that their religious freedom is threatened remains to be seen.
So we’ll rebel against 2 stars out of 4 for the sprawling, R-rated, faith-based war epic, For Greater Glory. It may be focused on the greater good, but it still falls far short of glory.