The Cristero War, an uprising of Catholic revolutionaries fighting a socialist Mexican government bent on denying them religious freedoms, is a fascinating, if little known, piece of history. The movie For Greater Glory does a fairly good job of bringing the story to modern audiences, and despite its lack of editing and ramshackle structure, it still packs a wallop.
Without going overboard, the movie, which was written by Michael Love, underscores current tensions between Catholic institutions and the federal government, a fact which makes the narrative that much more compelling. Mexican president Elias Calles (Ruben Blades) is intent on supressing the church, right down to deporting priests born in other countries, prohibiting them from wearing their vestments, and banning masses. Thousands take to the streets and participate in economic boycots against the state. Determined to succeed, the Christian protestors hire General Velarde (Andy Garcia), a much-decorated war hero who had defeated Zapata and who finds life as a successful soap merchant—even with Eva Longoria as his wife—limiting.
Among those determined to join the fight is young Jose, a street urchin whose life has been touched by a priest (Peter O’Toole), whose execution by federal forces he witnessed. Mauricio Kuri gives a soulful, heartbreaking performance of a young saint (Jose was canonized by Pope John Paul II). His interactions with Velarde, who has no son, are sweet and funny, making what ultimately happens that much harder to take. Along the way the script throws in other revolutionaries, incuding priest soldiers, daring ladies and an American diplomat (Bruce Greenwood), all of whom are depicted vividly and with heart. Still, even as we applaud the revolutionaries’ efforts to defeat totalitarianism, the movie suffers from wanting to pack so much into its already sprawling run time. The story arc of Velarde finding his faith is intriguing and ultimately makes the movie’s climax that much more effective, a remarkable feat considering the various flaws that detract from the overall telling of the story.