Movie Review: “For Greater Glory”
posted at 8:23 am on May 25, 2012 by Dustin Siggins
Over the last several years Catholics in America and Europe have experienced what they believe are the stripping of religious rights, and many are concerned the situation could easily turn into a public confrontation with various governments. One example of this is in England, where just this week the federal government has moved to declare wearing crosses in public is not a right. On this side of the water, my church’s parochial vicar Father Robert Lange often quotes His Eminence Francis Cardinal George, Archbishop of Chicago, who in 2010 said the following: “I expect to die in bed, my successor will die in prison and his successor will die a martyr in the public square.”
Such things were on my mind as I watched “For Greater Glory,” a movie about the Cristeros, or “soldiers for Christ,” who fought against religious persecution by the Mexican government from 1926 to 1929. The movie starts with laws which encroach upon religious freedom relatively benignly, such as not allowing the public wear of religious symbols. The Mexican government then moves to decry foreigners who allegedly control the nation’s citizens, particularly the Vatican, and rounds up all foreign-born bishops and priests to force them to leave the country. Peaceful rallies and protests are responded to with military force, which leads to an economic boycott.
The boycott is the last straw for Mexican President Plutarco Elías Calles. Ignoring the counsel of his advisers, he begins invading churches and killing Catholic priests and parishioners. This leads to protests of various forms, from peacefully marching in the streets to violent rebellion. At the heart of the entire movie are a teenage boy who sees his mentor shot before his eyes, an atheist whose wife’s Catholic faith and his own belief in religious freedom cause him to lead the rebellion, a woman whose network of faithful Catholic women is critical to the rebellion’s early formation, a rebel whose legendary fighting skills are matched by his disdain for authority, and a priest whose violent leadership in the rebellion causes a great deal of spiritual uncertainty.
As a movie, “For Greater Glory” isn’t a bad watch. It is rated R for violence and graphic imagery (a number of lynched bodies are seen hanging, for example, throughout the film). However, it often struggles to capture and hold the viewer’s emotions. In aiming to fully develop over half-a-dozen major characters, often through individual scenes and interactions with secondary and lower-ranked characters, the movie comes across as a bit of a whirlwind. This fast pace allows a great deal of history to get on to the screen, but it does not allow for the full depth of emotion one would expect when, for example, young Jose sees his mentor and local priest (played by Peter O’Toole) shot by Mexican authorities.
The movie also has many scenes which seem disconnected from the rest of the movie. When Andy Garcia’s character breaks a vase, for example, it is done in a way that fails to add to the viewer’s knowledge of him or his family, or even his eventual role in the movie as general of the rebellion. Jose leaves his family to join the Cristeros, but how a young boy finds them in the middle of nowhere in Mexico is left to the viewer to discern. Part of this could be due to cutting the original movie down from its initial length of over three-and-a-half hours to two hours and twenty minutes, which may not have allowed for fleshing out of certain scenes. Another reason could be that Pablo Barroso, the movie’s executive producer, is a strong Mexican-Catholic who wanted the full story told and was the movie’s sole financial backer. Either way, though, the movie does struggle to fully draw the viewer into the emotional and structural importance of many scenes.
“For Greater Glory” comes out on June 1 in limited release, and has a variety of important, if understated characters played by O’Toole, Bruce McGill, Bruce Greenwood, Eva Longoria, Eduardo Verástegui, and Catalina Moreno. Truly leading the film both visually and spiritually are Garcia, Santiago Cabrera and Mauricio Kuri. Kuri stars as José Luis Sánchez del Rio, a 14-year old boy who was one of many Cristeros beatified or canonized in the last dozen years, and Cabrera plays an internally conflicted priest. While it is not the typically slick Hollywood film, it does draw upon a lot of history in order to portray the breadth of Cristeros who fought for freedom in their own ways, and even draws in the international political community – where the American ambassador, played by Greenwood, at one point offers American assistance to Calles if he will allow American oil companies access to Mexico’s resources.
Religious Americans will see a great deal of similarities between the beginning of the movie and the contraception/sterilization/abortifacient mandate the Catholic Church is fighting today. To quote my friend Arina Grossu, Executive Director for Fr. Francis Martin Ministries: “If the government can impose mandates that go against your freedom of conscience, what’s to stop it from taking the next step and imposing mandates that go against your freedom of speech and freedom of religion, like wearing a crucifix or practicing your faith in public?” While the First Amendment and other protections should prevent anything close to what happened in Mexico from taking place in our nation, the similarities are hard to miss and should draw a great deal of media and viewer attention.