The compelling archival footage, which literally made me gasp aloud, and the incredible, disturbing photos are amazing.
Unfortunately, you’ll see them only during the end credits of “For Greater Glory,” a well-intentioned film that spreads its focus far too thinly and far too long. This would have been a terrific documentary. As it is, it’s a dressed-up made-for-television type of movie that wanders all over the place and uses clichés in its setups and dialogue.
Beginning in 1926, we meet Mexican President Plutarco Calles (Ruben Blades), who enacts many anti-religious laws (most of these focus on the Catholic Church). He does not want those from other countries to influence his own, so he deports some Catholic leaders and makes it a crime for priests to appear in public in their vestments.
A kind of uprising begins, with those involved known as “Cristeros.” Among them is Father Vega (Santiago Cabrera). But the group members realize they need a real military leader, so they hire retired Gen. Enrique Velarde (Andy Garcia), whose religious views clash with those of his Catholic wife Tulita (Eva Longoria), who wants their daughters to be raised in her faith.
An American ambassador (Bruce Greenwood) gets involved, and so does Velarde, who, although he is not religious, supports freedom of religion. When young José Luis Sánchez del Rio (Mauricio Kuri) sees soldiers kill a priest who is his friend (Peter O’Toole), he talks his way into becoming a Cristero and is a great inspiration to Velarde.
There are far too many characters here for the audience to become truly involved with all of them, and the motivations of many of them are unclear. Mostly, this is a lot of violence — ghastly torture scenes, hangings and corpses throughout.
There are a few good battle scenes, not surprisingly, and some of the acting is very good (with Blades and Garcia particularly effective). But the dialogue and the characters’ situations lean heavily on typical war movie clichés.
This is indeed a war movie about people willing to die in the name of faith. It’s a war that many people may not have not heard of, and for that reason it certainly serves a commendable purpose as an educational tool. (I went home and read more about the war and the martyrs depicted here.)
It’s a story that deserves to be told in a high-quality documentary.
'FOR GREATER GLORY'
Running time: Two hours and 23 minutes
Rated: R for violence and grisly scenes of death