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The sort of lumbering epic drama that went out of fashion by the late 1960s, For Greater Glory is mainly notable for shedding light on a little-known historical conflict, namely the Cristero War that took place in 1920s Mexico. This elaborate production about that country’s persecution of the Catholic Church crams in an endless number of battle scenes and real-life historical figures into its overlong 143-minute running time, with increasingly diminishing returns.
Among the gallery of notable performers playing dress-up is Andy Garcia in the central role of General Gorostieta, the esteemed hero of the Mexican revolution who is called out of comfortable retirement to take up the cause of the Cristeros. Not particularly religious himself, he feels called to duty when President Calles (Ruben Blades) declares war on Catholics and deprives them of basic human rights.
A major plot element involves a young boy, Jose (Maurcio Kuri), who when first seen is mischievously throwing fruit at an aged priest (Peter O’Toole) with whom he ultimately forms a close bond. When the priest is later killed by a firing squad, the boy joins the revolution and is mentored by Gorostieta, who treats him like the son he never had.
Despite its profusion of violent battle sequences, the film is most effective in its quieter moments, such as the scenes in which Calles warily negotiates with the American ambassador (Bruce Greenwood) who is mainly intent on preserving U.S. oil interests. Another standout is the subtly tension-filled encounter between Gorostieta and Calles during a brief lull in the war.
The histrionics in Michael Love’s melodramatic screenplay rarely let up, with the characters constantly making portentous pronouncements about religious freedom, etc. Particularly egregious are the emotional debates between Gorostieta and his wife (Eva Longoria, in a stark departure from Desperate Housewives) over his decision to once again suit up for battle.
Making his directorial debut, esteemed special-effects designer Dean Wright (Titanic, The Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King) displays little sense of dramatic pacing, letting far too many scenes drag on endlessly. The complicated storyline, with its numerous subplots and supporting characters who pop in and out of the action, is often difficult to follow. And like so many historical dramas, the film, shot on historical locations throughout Mexico, features drab the sort of sepia-toned cinematography that give it the feel of a moving daguerreotype.
The stolid Garcia is so intent on projecting his character’s innate decency that he fails to display the charisma that shot him to stardom in such films as The Untouchables. Among the large supporting cast that also includes Oscar Isaac and an underused Catalina Sandino Moreno (Maria Full of Grace), the standouts are O’Toole, quietly moving as the priest who goes to his death with dignity, and Blades, impressively conveying Calles’ fanatical obsession with ridding his country of religious elements.
Opens: Friday, June 1 (ARC Entertainment)
Production: Dos Corazones Films, New Land Films
Cast: Andy Garcia, Oscar Isaac, Catalina Sandino Moreno, Santiago Cabrera, Eva Longoria, Peter O’Toole, Ruben Blades, Bruce Greenwood, Bruce McGill, Eduardo Verastegui
Director: Dean Wright
Screenwriter: Michael Love
Producer: Pablo Jose Barroso
Director of photography: Eduardo Martinez Solares
Editors: Richard Francis-Bruce, Mike Oden Jackson
Production designer: Salvador Parra
Costume designer: Dianne Crittenden
Music: James Horner
Rated R, 143 min.
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