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.

Although the message of the film is essential to its impact, so is the behind-the-camera talent. The dusty Mexican vistas at times evoke Sam Peckinpah’s The Wild Bunch, but the fighters in For Greater Glory are fighting for a moral code centered on God rather than on themselves. Director Dean Wright, best known as a visual effects supervisor for films such as The Lord of the Rings: The Two TowersTitanic and The Chronicles of Narnia: The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe, does an admirable if not exceptional job of juggling multiple characters across the film’s two-and-a-half-hour running time.

For Greater Glory lands right after Memorial Day and a few weeks ahead of July 4 in the United States, helping us remember our own revolutionary history, and rekindling our hopes that others might know the freedoms we’ve known and have fought for. “It is not only our duty to defend freedom but our right,” says Gen. Velarde. The government troops “will fire bullets, but God decides where they land.”

For Greater Glory reminds us that He does not promise success, but when it comes, it’s a glorious thing.

CAUTIONS:

  • Language/Profanity: “What the hell.”
  • Alcohol/Smoking/Drugs: Many scenes of cigar and cigarette smoking as well as scenes of drinking, often during war negotiations.
  • Sex/Nudity: None.
  • Violence/Crime: A boy is slapped for throwing food at a priest; the priest later is executed as the boy looks on; multiple men are shot or hanged, with their bodies shown later, dangling from ropes; people are struck with the butts of guns; revolutionary activities go against laws the rebels believe are used to unjust ends; a man is stabbed to death; a young boy is determined to be a martyr for the cause.
  • Marriage/Religion: The Cristeros fight the government and its anti-Catholic policies; a crucifix is burned; religious freedom is central to the Cristeros’ cause, with their general saying that he cherishes religious freedom, even though he himself is not a Christian; a character says there is no greater glory than to give one’s life for Christ; communion is offered to the soldiers, but not to the general; boys say grace; boys are told it “would not be right in the eyes of God” for them to serve as soldiers; a man says, “Go with God”; a worship service; a man tells his wife he wishes he had her faith, but that he doesn’t know where to find it; she replies that it just might find him; God is said to be able to take even the most horrific events and use them for good—like the Cross.
     

Questions? Comments? Contact the writer at crosswalkchristian@hotmail.com.