For Greater Glory (2012)

Review by Boniface

This week for our anniversary my wife and I treated ourselves and went to see the film For Greater Glory (R, 2012) about the Mexican Cristero War during the 1920's. The film is directed by Dean Wright, a first-time director who was visual effects supervisor for the The Two Towers and Return of the King. The film stars Andy Garcia in the main role as Enrique Gorostieta, as well as Oscar Isaac (St. Joseph from The Nativity Story). Eva Longoria, Peter O'Toole and Eduardo Verastegui (Jose from Bella) also have lesser roles. The movie traces the Catholic persecution in Mexico from the first anti-clerical measures introduced by President Calles in 1926 through the bloody Cristero War and the final agreement with the Church in 1929 that ended the conflict.

If you will forgive the expression, it was really nice to finally see Catholics with some balls. I'm serious. In this film, the Catholics get shoved around, persecuted and finally start getting killed by Calles' government. And how do they respond? Sure, they try protests, petitions and non-violent resistance and go through all the standard arguments about why they need to be law-abiding citizens. But when that fails, what do they do? They get some guns and start freakin' shooting people and hanging people! This is definitely not a movie where pious Catholics sit meekly by in white robes while they get eaten by lions. No - this is flaming, tequila-drinking Catholics with crucifixes in one hand and rifles in the other shooting, exploding, and hanging federal agents. For me these are all gigantic positives.

If I were the powers that be in this country, I would be worried about the implications of this movie. It reminds us that Catholics are meek and law abiding, but that if you push us far enough and start attacking our faith...well, oh boy, are you in for something you couldn't imagine. In this sense, the film was not only good but inspirational.

There is no nudity, no blasphemy - the Church comes off looking very good, and priests are portrayed very positively. The story itself is fairly moving - I got teary eyed a few times and my wife cried.

The problems of the film are more annoying than serious. A lot of the camera work is shaky, as if the cameraman was holding the camera in his hand and not using a tripod. I don't know what effect this was supposed to have, but it was quite prevalent (perhaps 40% of the film) and it took awhile to adjust to.

There were a lot of characters to keep track of. Though General Enrique was the main protagonist, he did not emerge as such until a third of the way through the movie, and for the first part of the film you are trying to keep track of who's who and wondering who the main character is. Because of this abundance of characters, some of the development is necessarily shallow. I went through the whole film never figuring out even the names of some of the secondary characters.

There were several loose ends at the conclusion of the film. For example, the last scene of the film shows General Enrique helping his wounded priest friend Fr. Vega onto a horse in order to help him escape. Fr. Vega, a main character, is suffering from a gunshot wound and is drifting in and out of consciousness; his survival is by no means certain. Enrique helps him onto the horse and sends him away. A moment later the film is over and we never see whether Fr. Vega survived or not. It is simply left hanging. That is the most egregious example, but there are others like it.

And of course the film is rater R, so it is violent. There is a disturbing scene of a boy being tortured, lots of scenes of people being hanged, and an almost non-stop barrage of gun-fighting throughout the film. It's not for the weak  of heart.

But then again, why would it be otherwise? The Calles persecution was horrific, and the Cristero War was a very dark period in Mexican history. The film adequately depicts this darkness while nevertheless not becoming a dark film; in fact, it's heroic depiction of the Cristeros, and the side plots of the characters (some of whom will later go on to be beatified), give the film an optimistic mood despite its brutal violence. It shows sin in all its horror, but also the undeniable operation of grace.

I give the film 2.5 tiaras.