DVD Release Date: September 11, 2012
Theatrical Release Date: June 1, 2012
Rating: R (for war violence and some disturbing images)
Genre: Drama
Run Time: 143 min.
Director: Dean Wright
Actors: Andy Garcia, Ruben Blades, Eva Longoria, Oscar Isaac, Bruce Greenwood, Peter O’Toole, Mauricio Kuri, Santiago Cabrera, Catalina Sandino Moreno

Remember George W. Bush?

Headlines to that effect appeared recently in newspapers across the country, as the former president gave a speech in May that served as a reminder of his “freedom agenda.” That agenda was tied to the Bush doctrine—that all people are endowed by their Creator with liberty, and that liberty’s natural expression is democracy.

The consequences of implementation of the Bush doctrine are still being debated as the wars launched in Iraq and Afghanistan during Bush’s two terms wind down. Giving people the freedom to vote has sometimes resulted in the election of hard-line religious opponents of the United States rather than the rulers with which our government had learned how to work.

It’s an unsettling time to see such democracy flourish, as the near-term results empower parties and religious leaders whose rhetoric can be off-putting, if not frightening. But freedom rings in places it once did not. Thomas Jefferson’s ideas, as expressed in the Declaration of Independence, resonate in Americans’ hearts, even as Jeffersonian democracy and its religious freedoms have not resulted in lands where people have been given the right to vote.

For Greater Glory is a historical drama that shows the cost of fighting for religious freedom. It’s a message worth proclaiming, but does that make For Greater Glory good cinema?

Andy Garcia stars as Gen. Enrique Gorostieta Velarde, called into service in 1920s Mexico by the Cristeros, a band of rebels who refuse to stand by during a crackdown by the anticlerical government of President Calles (Ruben Blades). The government sends out soldiers to intimidate churches and execute priests who defy its orders.

Peter O’Toole plays a kind priest who extends grace to a young boy, Jose (Mauricio Kuri), after the boy has engaged in some youthful shenanigans. Rather than harshly punish the perpetrator, the priest develops within the boy a heart for service. When Jose later witnesses the priest’s execution at the hands of government soldiers, he takes up the Cristeros’ cause.

The filmmakers’ loyalties to the cause are never in doubt. When a priest tells one revolutionary that war is not a solution and that Jesus is the Prince of Peace, the man responds that Scripture says there’s a time for peace and a time for war. When war comes, the film’s James Horner soundtrack swells triumphantly, leaving any viewers who might have sided with the priest’s argument in an uncomfortable position. For Greater Glory isn’t much interested in the priest’s pacifist philosophy. It wants to get down to the business of righteous rebellion.

More uncomfortable is the role of the young Jose. Clearly designed to generate audience sympathy, the character repeatedly refuses to renounce the cause of the Cristeros, even at the point of a gun. Such courage is admirable, but watching the young boy essentially sign his own death warrant as his parents stand by, pleading, feels closer to emotional manipulation than it does to historical truth.