REVIEW: Despite Cristero War Setting, For Greater Glory Could Use a Better Story

Movieline Score: 5
For Greater Glory - Review

Although he converted to marry his devoutly Catholic wife in 1926, Graham Greene was famously called to the faith during his time in Mexico, where he exiled himself in 1938, after an over-stimulated review of a Shirley Temple movie threatened him with extradition to the United States on libel charges. It was in Mexico that Greene conceived the first novel in his “Catholic trilogy,” The Power and the Glory, about a priest on the run during the Cristero War.

The context of that war is laid out in reams of curly font at the beginning of For Greater Glory, and I guess I mention Graham Greene because the two hours of prancing melo-epic that follow those introductory paragraphs compare so poorly to the nuance and moral rigor of his masterpiece. To be fair, that’s probably a given – what I mean is that I began, not long after the opening credits, to long for an escape into a better story. I kept wanting to sneak Greene’s “whiskey priest” into the film’s turgid, sepia-toned landscapes and start following him through his purely fictional paces.

Where Greene’s hero was racked with doubt, there’s very little of that at the outset of For Greater Glory; the embalming agents of history will do that to a story. President Calles (Rubén Blades) informs the press that “Mexico is under siege,” and describes his campaign to rid the country of its overweening religious influences. Calles passed legislation that banned Catholic services, forbid priests and nuns from being seen in clerical garb, and severely restricted the rights of the faithful. Religion-neutral revolutionary war hero-turned-mogul General Gorostieta (Andy Garcia) addresses the concerns of his devout wife (Eva Longoria): “As an ex-military man I can tell you it’s only a matter of time until Calles is overthrown.” The rebels (including Catalina Sandino Moreno and Santiago Cabrera) amassing an underground alliance are as certain in their beliefs, and pledge a peaceful resistance. Young José (astonishing newcomer Mauricio Kuri) is chastised by his father (Nestor Carbonell) for taunting a priest (Peter O’Toole); the priest responds by making José an altar boy.

Soon after, O’Toole is martyred before his protégé’s eyes, galvanizing the boy’s faith where it might have been understandably thrown into chaos. The scene is shameless, the pair locking eyes and praying together at the moment of execution, and comes very early on. But For Greater Glory is just getting started, both with its jarring emotional pace and deliberate muddling of the issue of whether our heroes are fighting for their God or for a larger freedom of religious belief. Garcia’s General is positioned as the lightning rod for this question: When the Cristeros decide to fight back, they seek to recruit him as a leader, but the only glory the General is interested in has to do with medals and kill counts. Bored with his soap factory, Garcia squares his mercenary interest in the offer with the idea, as he later hisses to his old war buddy Calles, that the latter “declared war on freedom.” (Oh no he did not!)

But the General’s reluctant conversion – the result of the bond he develops with José, who joins the revolt – manages to sidestep the idea of a motivating ideology. Instead Glory relies more on sentiment for its climax, mixing in just enough piety to fully and finally confuse the film’s perspective. Michael Love’s script is full of beans and Catholic loopholes: In one scene a priest tells his men that they might fire bullets, but God decides where they land. In another he counsels that God doesn’t worry about those who kill a body, only those who kill a soul. There doesn’t seem to be any scrutinizing awareness surrounding these lines; certainly director (and effects maven) Dean Wright appears to rejoice in depicting the war’s violence, whether it’s the bodies swinging from telephone poles or the constant puh-pow, puh-pow, p-chew, p-chew of the shoot ‘em up scenes (though the renegade fighter played by Oscar Isaac has a welcome, snarling vitality).

There’s a moment, early on, when For Greater Glory fires up the viewer’s camp alert, specifically when Blades ends one of his diabolical, “let them eat dick” pronouncements – and the scene – by lazily spinning a globe with his index finger. Ultimately the movie has too much going on to be primarily a campy pleasure. Bruce Greenwood works his oaky inflections as the U.S. ambassador responsible for arming Calles’s men with advanced artillery in exchange for oil; several performers eke out genuinely moving moments. But there’s enough froth along the way to keep the memory of Will Ferrell’s recent Casa Di Me Padre close at hand. I’m still Catholic enough to feel guilty about that, especially given the closing-credits images of the actual subjects – martyrs all – and one actual, unidentified execution. I hereby sentence myself to a re-reading of The Power and the Glory as penance.

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  • A movie financed in part by the Knights of Columbus? I'll pass. There's also nothing in the film about the Cristeros' mass slaughter of rural school teachers who dared to teach evolution. Sounds like a movie aimed squarely at the Kirk Cameron crowd.

    • Seneca, Joe says:

      Just curious. Would you be so kind as to site your source. That is, how do you know your claim respecting these murders to be true? Do you speak the truth not?

    • And I'll pass on all the horror movies, cookie cutter alien invasion movies, special effect laden no plot movies, women in scantily clad clothing beach summer party let's get drunk and have sex movies, robbery based movies, good cop bad cop movies, and pile of action heroes murdering people for kicks movies that you most likely love seeing.

      It's a movie about Catholic history. Deal with it.

      • Viva Christo Rey! says:

        Thank you! Me too!

      • I also thank you! Me Three

      • Marge Cecere says:

        I was just told about this movie widely advertised in Penn. After it came out in the theatre, all of a sudden it disappeared from view. no commercials, movie theatres didnt knowo anything about it. It was as if it never happened. To mike in bay area - its nice when people stand up for their beliefs rather than the majority. Thank you for your comment, Sorry I didnt know about it sooner.

  • Frank Flynn says:

    Its the General who says the line about "men firing bullets/God decides where they land", but I guess at that point you stopped paying attention. Spot on about the Greene novel though.

    • Michelle Orange says:

      Ah, my memory/notes misled me on that one, thanks. But remind me, is Garcia not quoting something the priest said back to him? Or just quoting a teaching to the priest? I see the priest there, anyway.

  • Seneca, Joe says:

    I LOOK FORWARD TO SEEING THE MOVIE THIS WEEKEND. How refreshing to find a movie that shows the obvious. That religion is (and has always been) a major aspect of human history and that people intuitively make the connection between religious freedom and political liberty.

    You see Hollywood freedom is not to be found in your debased, materialistic and secular vision. But I'm sure that you don't really give damn on your way to the local bank.

  • Viva Christo Rey! says:

    You obviously had a very low attention-level. The goals, intentions, and purposes of the characters' actions and decisions are very well portrayed; what you missed is the well-written conflict of interest amongst the Cristeros.

    "Garcia squares his mercenary interest in the offer with the idea, as he later hisses to his old war buddy Calles, that the latter “declared war on freedom.” (Oh no he did not!)"

    By this point, General Gorostieta has experienced a change of heart, and he's exactly right-Calles did indeed declare war on the People's freedom to worship God in peace.

    With all due respect, pay more attention in the future and put more thought into your reviews.

  • Maria says:

    I'm very exited to go and watch this movie becouse my Father was a Christero and was a very much Part of this and did great things to help some of his friends and a Prist that was his best Friend whare kill murder he was a great Pearson

  • Kara says:

    In regard to the first poster's comment:

    Like Seneca, Joe, says, where's the proof that the Cristeros killed rural school teachers who taught evolution? It's the same thing Roger Moore wrote IN a movie review.

    What happened to citing sources, researching topics, and not skewing everything, like we all were taught in college?

    Let's say that it's true. Was it sanctioned by the Cristero rebellion, or was it some faction that went and did that without any commander telling them to? If a business employee embezzles funds, does that mean that the whole company is at fault? I think not.

    And if it didn't happen, then where is the propaganda coming from?

    In either case, WHERE IS THE SOURCE? Moreover, WIKIPEDIA is NOT a valid source, something else we were taught in, guess where? College. Guess we don't really learn that much in college after all.

  • Steve Siegel says:

    Saw it last night - EXCELLENT - Highly recommend seeing it. Definetly some relavance to the attacks against freedom and the catholic church in this country today.

    • adele says:

      I've NEVER posted an online coment on ANY subject, political, religious, or otherwise. Went online only to read some reviews of this excellent movie. Sadly, the sarcastic and synical speak between people, humans, our brothers, online here make me less likely to do it again...Let alone have anyone else sway my opinion of a film about history a government hasn't wanted to talk about, the truth that people will fight to death for religious freedom, a rare genuine tear-jerker, and a film that made me think for a change instead of filling my mind mean spirited online comments.

  • Desert Rat says:

    Another inaccuracy in your review. You stated that that Nestor Carbonell portrayed young José's father. He portrayed his Godfather. How did you miss that? They stated that at least once in English and referred to him as Padrino (Spanish for Godfather) numerous times. I expect more from people profiting from their opinion. Research would have been helpful if you didn't know what they were saying. And Catholic enough!? What's that?

  • car roz says:

    I saw the movie yesterday. Very good movie. My mother lived this. She made her First Holy Communion in hiding. Their house was ransacked by the Federales because they thought they were hiding a Priest. My grandfather was taken in for questioning but then released to the releif of my grandmother. Mass was celebrated in hiding for fear of being killed. We take religious freedom for granted but always be mindful of the freedoms that are afforded you by the Constitution of the U. S. A. Do not allow Obama the H H S mandate to take away any Religious Freedoms. Christ the King.

  • car roz says:

    Memorial Day just passed. Do not forget the sacrifice of the U S A Veterans have given to the United State. One of them Religious Freedom. Love in Christ the King.

  • Ayde Bravo says:

    The movie was outstanding. I'm thrilled that the story of my family is finally being told. My grandfather told a story of a time when Catholicism was outlawed and priests and followers were persicuted. His uncle was a priest and when the federales found him conducting mass underground he was tortured. They cut the soles off his feet and made him walk to his execution. He died never having denounced God. The story of La Cristiada has been told to me many times when I was younger but i never understood the profound loss experience by so many families in Mexico. It is said that 90,000 people lost their lives a high prise to pay but it wasn't in vain.

  • Bob Olson says:

    Yes, I agree. The movie was outstanding. A great movie for young people to see if they want to know about how people in Mexico fought for Religous Freedom and how Governments must not infringe on the rights of all people...Christian or non-Christian. A particular interest for all those who are concerned about religious freedom and human rights.

  • Bob Olson says:

    This would be a good movie for Pres. Obama and his family and the cabinet to see one night in the Whitehouse...think Americans what Government can do to the Church and anyone who they do not agree with...something to think about when you go to the polls this November.

  • Hope says:

    My husband and I saw this movie yesterday. We were in tears as we left the theater thinking of our own freedoms and how they are disappearing in the USA. We felt this was a great movie and I would recommend it without reservation.

  • marie says:

    I saw the movie yesterday and thought it was very good. I would recommend it to anyone.

  • janice says:

    I love how all comments turn to our politics of 2012. I love our religious freedom and catholic institutions should not have to provide birth control to anyone. Other than that I do not know of anything going on with Obama's administration to take away our religious freedoms.

    I will never vote GOP. They are not christian at all as scriptures say "love" is the highest gift and we should love all others. GOP does not care if your children starve, literally. They only look at stock prices and how big business is doing. Republican party was a good party decades ago (50 years ago) Now they are only about greed to the tune of starting wars just for profit (iraq) and killing thousands of innocent children. They have no pity on those w/o insurance, food or housing and are so terrified that some of their tax money might go to help the poor. Sick, sick people. Not a christian bone in their bodies, just wanting to tell others how to live is their idea of christianity.

    • AMR says:

      If you do not vote Republican, you are considering a war as in Mexico for the USA. You need to do some research on Obama. Look up who started ACORN and on his Blog there is a video and behind him are his reference books of Socialism, Marxism, Communisim, etc. This is Obama's thinking and you better wake up soon. Obama's agenda is not the American System as we now it, they are destroying our freedoms as we speak. Yes we need to do better, but a vote for Obama is a vote for Communism.

      • columbus says:

        Get real, religious bigotry has been going on since the beginning. I have no affiliation with any religion but I do believe everyone should have a choice. FYI the catholic church did plenty of slaughtering in GODS name. LMAO

    • sharon says:

      Janice, you are absolutely correct in saying 'you don't know what's going on"! You don't know your own party nor the GOP! Romney gave more to charity in one year than Harry Reid (Dem NV) did in ten years. Obamacare mandates that we as Catholics or Jewish or any Christian Faith provide abortifacias, sterilization to all employees no matter if it goes against our religious beliefs, this applies to colleges, hospitals and other religious institutions. I just love it when the left dems quote from the Bible, but you don't live it. Cause if you did you would know Christ intimately and know 'what ever you do to the least of these (i.e.children ) you do to ME'.

  • Jedidiah says:

    For me it was the most profoundly moving film on fighting for freedom since Red Dawn. I am not Catholic but all I can say is Viva El Cristo Rey. America could be the next victim of religious bigotry.

  • John says:


    Granted that the movie has its shortcomings and could have been better, and at times it is too idealistic to be of good taste for a movie critic, and too fast on important events which results on most of the audience missing them, like you did.

    But I will have to disagree with you, and I claim that the movie is good.

    The movie is strongly biased and has an agenda in favor of the Cristeros. It is also true that some Cristeros murdered innocent people, Priest-General Vega was labeled as an avenger and murderer by many at that time, but the main historic evidence about that is the reference to blowing the train with passengers, which shows in the movie. The Cristero Rebels were labeled as Terrorists and fanatics by the Government of the time and its supporters in Mexico. One needs to be very skeeptic depending on what the historic sources that you are checking are.

    No human that participates in a war is free of sin, although it would have supported more the authenticity cause of the movie if Vega was portrayed without a total bias on the Cristero side.

    But the bulk of the historic evidence and photographic records are in support of the Cristero version of history portrayed in this movie. If you don't believe it, do your research.

    I agree with those who pointed out your lack of attention to the movie. Like:

    * Carbonell was not Jose's father. He was his Godfather.

    From a movie point of view, its fault is that it tries to portray too much of the historic events in detriment of the artistic proposition. But personally, I am thankful for that.


    For those who try to emphasize the political message of the movie, most of you got it wrong. Because it is more likely that The REPUBLICAN and The TEA parties will be on the side of Plutarco Elias Calles trying to squeeze the life out of the Cristero revolt, rather than supporting them, for the sake of the Petroleum and economic interests. Which is why those 2 parties are a shame to the American values.

    • Ana Maria Gutierrez says:

      John and those above mentioning religious freedom,

      BE AWARE!!! Attend any Stand Up for Religious Freedom peaceful rally at HHS offices across the country. One might say a war cry is being chanted not once and not twice but over and over again. It's evident peace and freedom loving citizens of all ages and many creeds will not stand for the HHS mandates of the current health care reform law being reviewed by our Supreme Court.

      In my first two sentences I present conflict a "peaceful rally" and a "war cry." Think about this carefully. It doesn't matter who is president now or who is elected in November. If the law stands
      legal before our supreme courts review, those of the peaceful rally will legally have their religious freedoms infringed. Now consider just how many months until this country might no longer know peace as it has since the civil war. Ironically, this war cry is the same as that in the movie reviewed in Michelle's article.

    • Brian says:

      John, it is obvious that you put some thought into your posting and I agree with you that this is a good movie. You, just as obvious have accepted the mass media version of the TEA Party and the Republican Party. For most people in both these groups God is first, then country, then Party. It is the Democrats that are currently passing laws and mandates to restrict our religious freedoms. Wake up, friend.

  • Memo says:

    You don't have to be catholic or Mexican to enjoy this movie.. you just have to love freedom and the people who fight for it.
    I'm not Scottish and loved Braveheart...
    Just open your mind and hearts, and this movie will do the rest.

  • Joan says:

    I saw the movie this weekend and thought it was truly marvelous and inspirational. Ms. Orange has a slightly different point of view, and I can respect that. However, I think perhaps she needs to consider the deeper meeanings presented in the particular scenes that she panned as well as the movie as a whole. Viva Cristo Rey!

  • Kathy Graeve says:

    I recommend this highly inspirational movie to everyone. I saw it in Omaha today, June 23rd after attending the morning Rosary and gathering at St. Margaret Mary Church with our Bishop. We must stand strong for our freedom of religion and protection of our religious rights. Seeing this movie today is just what we need to get everyone praying, paying attention to what is going on, and, voting for a republican president this fall who will help us maintain our rights under God.