Release Date: June 1, 2012 Rating: R Running Time: 143 minutes
Just because For Greater Glory depicts the Catholic uprising known as La Cristiada in 1920s Mexico doesn’t make this brutal faith-based civil war drama one of the rare films to examine what happens when the separation between church and state turns bloody. Director Dean Wright and screenwriter Michael Love show no desire to explore the social and political atmosphere that led to Mexico creating and cruelly enforcing anti-clerical laws. Instead, they happily spend 143 minutes violently pitting gun-toting priests against soldiers under the command of Mexican President Plutarco Calles, who is portrayed by Ruben Blades as a moustache–twirling comic-book villain who enjoys persecuting and murdering people of faith. That said, in For Greater Glory, it’s often impossible to distinguish those who kill in the name of God from those attempting to uphold laws designed to suppress religious freedom. There are times when peaceful resistance fails and must give away to armed resistance, but it is unlikely that it is Wright and Love’s intention with For Greater Glory to reveal the Cristero rebels to be just as merciless and unforgiving as their enemy. This proves to be the case in scene after scene of conflict, most notably after an attack on a train goes wrong. The rebels appear to be more concerned about the hit their public image will take rather than for the innocent lives they took. Wright and Love also introduce too many characters to follow, from Cristero leader Enrique Gorostieta Velarde to the priests, farmers and kids under his command. For Greater Glory consequently suffers from a lack of focus. Granted, Velarde is an interesting subject because he was a man who did not share his men’s religious beliefs—he believed in a Mexico that allowed freedom of religion. Unfortunately, as Velarde, Andy Garcia is more interested in striking poses and delivering Patton-like speeches than exploring the political and financial motives behind the military man’s leadership. This, sadly, is in keeping with For Greater Glory’s simple-minded approach to retelling this struggle for religious liberty.