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This epic about Mexico’s Cristero War of the late 1920s is a plodding and poorly plotted tale. In his debut as a director, visual effects veteran Dean Wright (The Lord of the Rings trilogy, The Chronicles of Narnia) seems to have found his greatest verve in the film’s battle scenes. But the script by Michael Love is all over the place, introducing disparate characters right and left, then following their actions for a little bit before shifting focus to other characters, only to return to to the previous characters once the viewer has forgotten their relevance. Fortunately, the simplicity of the story being told, with its lack of subtlety or character nuances, makes it relatively easy to follow the movie despite its choppy storytelling.
The film begins in 1926 as President Plutarco Calles (Blades) of Mexico issues a cluster of anticlerical edicts outlawing the practice of Catholicism and the presence of the clergy throughout the country. In turn, this sparks a people’s revolt, whose supporters are called Cristeros. They entice the former war hero, Enrique Gorostieta Velarde (Garcia), to lead their ragtag army. A known agnostic, Gorostieta is portrayed in the movie as deciding to fight in the defense of religious freedom, and converting to Catholicism by the movie’s end. His transformation is the major dramatic crux of the movie, and thereby reveals the film’s true intentions: to tell a tale of Christian heroism rather than an epic saga about a people’s revolution or the cost of freedom. (In case you’re inclined to see For Greater Glory based on the top billing of Eva Longoria, you should know that she only appears in a couple of scenes as Gorostieta’s devoutly Catholic wife, who kisses him goodbye and hopes for his eventual turn toward the eternal light.)
Andy Garcia does a lot of speechifying; Peter O’Toole shows up early in the film as a martyred priest (his craggy face looking as though it was ravaged long before the Federales showed up at his church); a bathetic subplot about a young boy who sees his priest murdered by the state and then joins the rebellion is played for pure tears; only Ruben Blades as President Calles and Bruce Greenwood as American Ambassador Dwight Morrow get out of this film with their acting dignity intact. Morrow’s attempt to negotiate peace in the region is fueled by oil interests rather than democratic ideals, and his mission seems eminently relatable to the present day. You’ll be forgiven (on earth if not in heaven) should you find yourself humming “Onward, Christian Soldiers” as you exit the theatre.