Home Video Hovel- For Greater Glory, by Sarah Brinks
Take a quarter cup of over-ambitious Mexican federal government officials, add a half cup of devout Catholics, mix vigorously with a healthy dollop of political greed, add a sprinkling of Peter O’Toole, top with a garnish of comically large mustaches, and bake for two and a half hours and you have For Greater Glory: The True Story of Cristiada. The story of the Cristiada has mostly been lost to the world’s history books, but it is a fascinating time in Mexico’s history (unfortunately it is not a fascinating movie). I am always skeptical of stories that claim to be based on true events. For Greater Glory is based on a real time in Mexico’s history, but the film doesn’t seem to trust that to be interesting enough. You are forced to sit through contrived character arch’s and fictional relationships to even get to the real meat of story, which is about Mexican’s fighting their government for the right to practice their Catholic faith. In the late 1920’s Mexican president Plutarco Elias Calles enforced anti-Catholic articles in the Mexican Constitution of 1917. It was a move to remove the power of Rome and church. This led to an uprising by Catholics who were naturally upset by no longer being able to worship openly. From them a group of rebels called Cristeros were created. This group used guerilla tactics to try to take down the government and reinstall religious freedom to Mexico. There is a fascinating movie in that story, however that is not the movie we get. Instead you get an over-long film that suffers from tunnel vision.
I don’t want to be completely negative because there were things about For Greater Glory that I liked. The best thing about this film is the performances. Andy Garcia plays the leader of the Cristeros Enrique Gorostieta Velarde. Garcia handles this lead role well. His character starts as an atheist who finds his faith through the cause. His religious transformation is believable and doesn’t feel forced. A very notable performance is from fifteen-year old Mauricio Kuri as José Luis Sánchez del Rio. Kuri’s performance has a surprising amount of heft and authenticity for such a young actor. He was a real stand out from the film and I look forward to seeing what he does in the future. Another stand out is Peter O’Toole as Father Christopher. O’Toole is sadly in the film very briefly but the time he is on screen he is a delight. He brings a depth to his character that makes his characters death and subsequent inspiration on the community believable. It is the death of his character that inspires José to join the Cristeros and also to find faith. The rest of the characters in the film seem to only have one-dimension. They are either all evil or all good, there is very little in between.
The DVD/Blu-ray has a special feature about The True Story of Cristiada. There are interviews with historians and clergy to get the truth behind the story of the film. If you get DVD/Blu-ray combo set I recommend you watch this feature first. About half way through it turns into a “making-of” feature, but the first half is very interesting. It really helps to fill in the gaps that the film leaves unanswered. You never know why the President is enforcing the anti-Catholic articles or what all is involved in enforcing those articles. You see soldiers interrupting mass and destroying holy statues, but the politics behind it are barely explored. This is the films’ greatest failing; it is so fixated on showing the effect the government’s actions have had on the Catholic’s you never know why it is really happening. It isn’t a documentary so I don’t expect an even-handed examination of the issues from both sides, but the Mexican government in For Greater Glory is essentially “big brother” just evil because they are evil.
Both the DVD and the Blu-ray copies look really good. The film is beautifully shot. Cinematographer Eduardo Martinez Solares has to be commended. There is an impressive action sequence of a shoot-out at night that is really beautiful and the action is pretty easy to follow. The soundtrack by James Horner is a little distracting. He seems to have just dug through the vault and mashed up a bunch of his past work. I kept hearing musical themes from Troy, which took me right out of the movie. This is the first directing effort by Dean Wright who has a background in visual effects. He competently made the film, but overall it is has a lot of problems. It is often confusing, slow, and even at times uninteresting. It gets so bogged down in proving the cause of the Catholics that it forgets to tell a story about interesting characters that are facing great challenges. It also seems to be a list of historical data points on film, which gives it a disjointed feeling.
Overall it is a difficult movie to recommend. If you are a history buff and have a spare two and a half hours then I would give it a watch. Otherwise I recommend you watch the first half an hour and then decide if you want to commit to two more hours that are Peter O’Toole-less (I’m guessing not).