For Greater Glory
For Greater Glory
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Finely crafted in an old-fashioned Hollywood epic sort of way, For Greater Glory is also a reminder that history is rich with chapters many of us never read. In the case of Mexico's Cristero War, it's more like a chapter that wasn't even written. The period from 1926 to 1929 that is documented with broad dramatic strokes in For Greater Glory was rife with turmoil and bloodshed for the revitalized, post-revolution people of Mexico, whose large Catholic population were denied their religious practice by the new president Plutarco Calles (played with steely ardor by Rubén Blades). Priests were murdered, churches desecrated, and the faithful forced to go underground in the face of laws that demanded secularization in the liberated country. Those who rose up against the Federales called themselves the Cristeros, and they waged a guerilla battle that cost thousands of lives before their freedoms were returned and a truce declared.
The movie is sprawling and thorough in depicting the major themes of the conflict, especially the recruitment of retired general Enrique Gorostieta, who led the ragtag rebel armies as a nonbeliever who nevertheless was drawn to guide the Cristeros out of a deeply held belief in liberty and human rights. Andy Garcia plays Gorostieta with considerable fervor and a welcomed sense of gravitas. He is a commanding presence throughout a film that hews to a very traditional formal style. Entirely character-driven individual scenes are juxtaposed with sweeping battle sequences, lending an almost biblical-epic feel to the movie as a whole without dragging it down or allowing it to wallow in the preachy.
A roguish young boy named José (Mauricio Kuri) becomes committed and ultimately martyred to the cause after witnessing the slaughter of his parish priest (an odd cameo by Peter O'Toole). He also plays foil to General Gorostieta as the two develop a deep father-son bond that stands as a metaphor for the larger issues dividing the Cristeros and the Mexican government. The cast is quite large, and it's sometimes difficult to keep the undercurrents of plot in focus with multiple stories being told on a personal level. Fortunately the grand scale is such that For Greater Glory really does come across as a glorious endeavor in both moviemaking skill and storytelling expertise. -Ted Fry
Title: For Greater Glory
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