Getting a film to make an impact often depends on timing, as well as the ability to get the word out. For instance, no one might have expected a historical epic like Braveheart to have much cultural influence, but the combination of having a star like Mel Gibson and the political timing of a push for independence in Scotland turned it into a phenomenon — as well as just being an entertaining and gripping film. We may see the same elements in play this June, when For Greater Glory hits the screens. With a cast that includes Academy Award nominees Andy Garcia, Peter O’Toole, and Catalina Sandino Moreno as well as Eva Longoria and Oscar Isaac, the film about the Cristero War in Mexico in the late 1920s will be hard to ignore:
I’ve had a chance to look at a very rough cut of this film, and it’s very impressive. For Greater Glory tells the story of the Mexican government’s attempt to stamp out the Catholic Church under President Calles (played by Ruben Blades), and the uprising that followed, a civil war that killed 90,000 people. Calles attempted to enforce the anti-clerical laws put into Mexico’s 1917 socialist Constitution by demanding the expulsion of foreign priests, banning public demonstrations of faith (including the wearing of clerical garb), and making criticism of the government by priests punishable by five years in prison. A boycott organized by the Catholic Church prompted Calles to get even tougher, and open war broke out. Enrique Gorostieta (Andy Garcia), a general who had fought for the winning side in the revolution, chose to lead the Cristero rebellion, and the film focuses mainly on Gorostieta, two of his lieutenants, and a young boy named Jose Sanchez del Rio, who was later beatified by the Catholic Church.
Without knowing how the finished product turns out, I can’t offer a formal review. I can say that the film is gripping even in its current form. For Greater Glory definitely takes a pro-Cristero point of view, but Braveheart took a pro-Scots point of view as well, and I’d argue that For Greater Glory sticks closer to the known facts (although obviously much gets left out of a two-hour movie). The cast is terrific; one would expect that from Garcia and Blades, but Mauricio Kuri is especially good as Jose, and Santiago Cabrera as the fighting priest Father Vega, who appears to be an amalgam of two historical figures, Jose Reyes Vega and Aristeo Pedroza.
Given the debate in this country over the nature of religious freedom, the timing of the release will be very interesting. Braveheart showed how a good film can change the political environment, and For Greater Glory looks like a very good film indeed. Keep an eye out on June 1st to find where it will be playing, and I hope to get a chance to talk with a few of the principals in the film between then and now.
Update: The Anchoress offers a “Viva Cristo Rey!” to the trailer.