(stars Andy Garcia, Eva Longoria, Peter O'Toole, Eduardo Verastegui, Oscar Israel)
“For Greater Glory” (“Cristiada” in Mexico) is the untold story of Mexico’s Cristeros War (or “Cristiada”): 1926-1929, between the government and Catholics (the actual involvement of the Mexican clergy/hierarchy and Rome is a little murkier). The events are historically accurate, and certain characters are real personalities from the struggle.
Most Americans have never heard of the Cristeros War, and, it seems, just as many Mexicans are ignorant of it as well! Why? Understandably, it makes 33rd degree Mason President Calles and the Mexican establishment look bad, so it’s not in the history textbooks. His brutal enforcement of anti-clerical laws, expelling of foreign clergy, forbidding of Catholic Masses and sacraments, as well as the outright slaughter of many priests, nuns and laity was extreme repression and a complete denial of religious freedom. Calles thought the Catholics would bow to such pressure. No such thing. The “Cristeros” took up arms and fought back--clergy among them.
“Viva Cristo Rey!” was the rallying cry of the resisters, fighters, and all faithful Catholics. Calles set up a schismatic “patriotic Church” much like the Communists in China today. (Incidentally, Cubans echoed the same allegiance before being put to death by Fidel Castro’s firing squads—see the excellent book “Against All Hope” by Armando Valladares.)
If anyone DOES know about the Cristeros War, it’s usually because they know the story of the daring young Jesuit, Blessed Fr. Miguel Pro, who used to travel around Mexico in disguise to administer the sacraments. In a huge PR blunder, Calles had the executions of priests photographed. He thought this would terrorize and deter Catholics. It had the exact opposite effect. Martyrs were created, AND there was government-issue proof! The photos of Fr. Miguel’s execution by firing squad can easily be found on Google. Fr. Pro is not mentioned in “For Greater Glory,” but no need, there are other amazing stories of heroes and heroines to be told.
The film starts off with a light, “It can’t happen here,” “It won’t be that bad,” blasé attitude and quickly deteriorates into something much more serious. This early progression of events is well-done: swift and devastating, but then the 137-minute film drags on and on. The film begins as a kind of ensemble piece: but gradually becomes Cristero General Velarde‘s (Andy Garcia) story.
This epic’s set direction and costuming is pitch-perfect, but the cinematography—although lush—is distracting and halting with far too much hand-held: in all the wrong places. Poor direction and editing make the fine cast look bad at times—all except for my guy: Oscar Israel* (who plays Victoriano Ramirez) who, for the most part, spun gold out of dross. However, I really have to give the benefit of the doubt to the possible fact that an over-the-top-Mexican-style-melodrama-western (which Americans often find laughable) was what the filmmakers were going for.
The dialogue is extremely simplistic and on-the-nose: “We will need guns! Yes, and ammunition!” “Be careful! You could get killed! Yes! I know I could get killed, but it will be for God and country!” Characters talk mostly in cliches. Several times I almost burst out laughing at very unfunny moments: “War is chess.” (Oh! I thought it was hell!) And Andy Garcia chomping on a cigar with one foot up on a rock in the background waiting for his tough guy line was just too much to bear silently.
We are automatically supposed to feel sympathy for the Catholics and identify with them, which I don’t think was achieved except on an intellectual level. I think many non-Catholics (and even some Catholics!) will bring their “Gripes Against the Catholic Church Baggage” into the cinema with them. But I guess that’s not the filmmakers’ problem. As long as the gripers don’t root for Calles. :]
It’s very important to read the text on the screen at the beginning and end of the film or you will not understand what’s going on OR the impact the Cristiada has had on modern-day Mexico.
What “For Greater Glory” lacks in cinematic prowess, it makes up in ambitiousness to tackle a crucial and uncannily timely subject. Like “October Baby,” which had its own filmmaking issues, “For Greater Glory,” too, succeeds on certain levels and is firmly in the must-see category.
Viva Cristo Rey!
*Oscar Isaac played St. Joseph in “The Nativity Story.” Remember? The guy who stole Mary’s movie? Well I didn’t recognize him in “FGG,” but I just said to myself: “Put this guy in a Western and I will be glued.” (And I don’t even care too much for Westerns.) The way he moved made me believe he was a horseman and gunman, and he’s just totally otherwise riveting.
--Many Mexicans say that many of the stories of the Cristeros War were handed down to them in their families. Um, nuns fared very, very badly—worse than many laywomen. If you know what I mean.
--The Catholics were called “fanatics” by their enemies.
--Auxiliary Bishop Rojas of Chicago grew up in a region of Mexico where the Cristeros War was particularly intense. He recommends a 3-volume set of books on this era by _______, whom he says gives a good, unbiased account. Yeah, sorry, missed the author’s name.
--The film is doing VERY well at the box office in Mexico (#1 against “Titanic 3D”), but there are rumors that the government wants it shut down.
--Calles pretends to be doing everything for the “dignity of Mexico.”
--Eva Longoria is really pretty here. Much prettier than in “Desperate Housewives.”
--This movie was NOT timed to come out during the religious-freedom-reducing HHS mandate stand-off with the Obama administration. It was made several years ago and got held up with typical movie-delay issues.
--Acting problems or directorial problems? Sometimes the fine actors looked like they were not in good hands and didn’t know what was expected of them. This could also be an editing problem. Cut! Cut! Switch cameras! I couldn’t stop thinking of “Meet Joe Black” (Brad Pitt, Anthony Hopkins). Although FGG is MUCH better than “Meet Joe Black.” Bad directing/editing can make ANY ACTOR look bad. I actually felt that by the end, Andy Garcia looked like a buffoon. Sorry, but that’s my honest opinion.
--The grandiose soundtrack did not match the action. Sweeping-landscape-type musical segments were used for intimate close-ups between characters. The same strains just ground on and on to the point of monotony, and there’s hardly any silence. Just music, music, music at high-drama setting at all moments. It’s wearisome.
--The director or editor did not seem to know how to get into a scene late and leave it early. A rule of filmmaking. Every scene was grandly set up with pauses, longshots, grand entrances, etc. A very old style of filmmaking. The transitions from one scene to another were random and disjointed which made the whole thing feel episodic, like a bunch of vignettes strung together. There is much mugging, posing and general standing around.
--There is no impetus, no feeling of urgency, no through-line in every scene, no suspense that keeps us watching (only some mild suspense within scenes). It needed DOGEWA (from film school): “What is the character DOing to GEt what he/she WAnts at every single minute?”
--United States government involvement in the war (on Calles’ side) is explicit!
--Knights of Columbus figure in big here! (“Good guys”—in case you were wondering.)
--I got bored several times.
--The intricacies of the war are handled pretty deftly by the screenwriter. Pretty easy to follow.
--Kind of twisted theology/logic at the end when General Velarde talks to warrior priest.
--Lots of gunfights and small battles, but very little gore. The “R” rating is probably for the unusual, not-in-keeping-with-the-rest-of-the-film, violent ending. Hint: Worse than “Hunger Games,” but don’t wanna spoil.
--Absolute must-read about the fierce hatred against the Catholics and the beautiful stories of the faith and sacrifice of the Cristeros, BUT this article insinuates that Popes Benedict XV and Pius XI were part of, favorable to or at least pawns of the Freemasons: http://www.catholicapologetics.info/catholicteaching/history/cristero.htm