Susan Granger's review of 'For Greater Glory'
Most Americans have never heard of Mexico's Cristero War (1926-1929), the conflict that rocked our southern neighbors when Roman Catholic priests and peasants rebelled against the government's repression of their religion.
It begins with the lynching of an aged, frail-looking priest, Father Christopher (Peter O'Toole), and ends with the torture and execution of an angelic-looking 13 year-old boy, Jose Luiz Sanchez del Rio (Mauricio Kuri), who was beatified by the Vatican in 2005, the first step en route to sainthood.
In the 1920s, Mexico's President Plutarco Elias Calles (Ruben Blades) introduced secular reforms which included edicts that removed church dogma from the schools, particularly science classes; ordered mass deportations of foreign priests; and advocated brutal violence against clerics who refused to leave.
As a result, a coalition of church officials and reactionaries rose up. These freedom fighters called themselves "Cristeros."
Although General Enrique Gorostieta Velarde (Andy Garcia), a retired, highly-decorated hero of the Mexican revolution, is an agnostic, his wife, Tulita ("Desperate Housewives" Eva Longoria), is a devout Catholic. Filled with righteous fervor against religious subjugation, the General, a brilliant tactician, agrees -- for a fee - to lead the ragtag Catholic militia against government forces, and that mischievous young boy, Jose Luiz Sanchez del Rio, becomes his surrogate son. The Cristeros triumphed, primarily because the skeptical United States Ambassador (Bruce Greenwood) brokered peace to preserve and protect our oil interests in Mexico.
Melodramatically scripted by Michael Love and heavy-handedly directed by Dean Wright (visual effects supervisor on "Lord of the Rings"), it is overly portentous and ponderous, running 143-minutes, which is too bad since there are several credible performances.
What's memorable is its educational value, delivering an inspirational history lesson, commemorated by Pope John Paul II's canonization of more than two dozen martyrs and saints who participated in the struggle. Yet its R-rating for bloody battle violence discourages a younger audience.
On the Granger Movie Gauge of 1 to 10, "For Greater Glory" is a solemn, fervent 5, filled with histrionic, faith-propelled lines like, "God save us from these heathens!"