- - Thursday, May 31, 2012

The dead of the Cristero War, a three-year long civil uprising in Mexico by militant Catholics against restrictions placed on worship by President Plutarco Elias Calles, deserve a better elegy than “For Greater Glory.”

In 1926, the revolutionary government of Mexico, threatened by the power of Rome and led by the militantly atheist Calles, embarked on a repressive policy designed to curtail the influence of the Catholic Church. When efforts to oppose this campaign were shrugged off, bands of fighters coalesced into an army and managed to fight the better-equipped, better-trained Federales to a standstill before a political solution was reached through intervention from the Vatican and the United States.

The material is ripe for a movie epic, but this dimwitted, overwrought passion play is hamstrung by its poor choices, not the least of which was the decision to film the movie in English with Latino actors. Listening to the mostly Latin American actors speak accented English, with the occasional Spanish idiom, undermines any verisimilitude “For Greater Glory” might strive to exhibit.

Perhaps Andy Garcia’s unrestrained performance as Enrique Gorostieta Velarde, a freethinking general who takes up the cause of the Catholics in deference to his wife, would have been moderated if he had been asked to read his lines in Spanish. As the major Hollywood star in the film, Mr. Garcia demolishes the other performers with his bellowing, glowering and reckless emoting. Rookie director Dean Wright, who made his name as a visual-effects supervisor on A-list Hollywood films, was perhaps powerless to rein in Mr. Garcia.

The film takes a bizarre turn in trying to dramatize the story of 14-year-old Jose Sanchez Del Rio, a Cristero volunteer who was executed for maintaining his faith. Jose was beatified in 2005, and the circumstances of his death recall the tales of the martyrs of the early church. But Mr. Wright takes it one step further, creating a scene of cruelty so bizarrely staged that it threatens to devolve into bathos.

Ruben Blades, the Panamanian singer-turned-actor, delivers one of the film’s few dignified performances as the villainous Calles. In a movie that lurches as if by instinct away from complexity, Mr. Blades offers a study of power that shows both a calculating politician and a paranoiac driven by unseen hatreds.

There are some enjoyable scenes, particularly a few of the improbable military victories of the Cristeros. But overall, this overlong, grim and poorly made film lacks much to commend it, even to those who are familiar with the history.

(2 stars)

TITLE: “For Greater Glory”

CREDITS: Directed by Dean Wright, written by Michael Love

RATING: R for violence

RUNNING TIME: 143 minutes

MAXIMUM RATING: FOUR STARS

LOAD COMMENTS ()

 

Click to Read More

Click to Hide