For Greater Glory Review
By: Matt C
For Greater Glory isn't perfect, but can you forgive its faults enough to see it?
Historical ensemble dramas are usually something one might see after the Summer blockbusters have smashed, exploded, and shot their way into theatres. To see them this early in the summer run is not unique, but it's important to note when they do appear. Sometimes it's done because the movie could be a weak entry into the Oscars if it were released in the Fall. Genres of this type also come packaged as an epic, bringing with them all kinds of potential issues: too many characters fighting for screen time, usually resulting in a bloated and ineffective product. This is where we find For Greater Glory, a well-intentioned film that tries very hard to be noticed but ultimately stumbles over its own weight.
Based on the events surrounding the Mexican Cristeros War of 1926-29, Glory attempts to tell how this secular revolution affected the lives of ordinary citizens, while exposing the reasons for the lockdown in the firstplace. Glory is told from several vantage points, including a young troublemaker (Mauricio Kuri), a priest (Santiago Cabrera, Heroes), and a former general turned factory owner (Andy Garcia, Ocean's Eleven). The brutal response by the Mexican government, executing priests in the street and hanging rebels by telegraph poles, is displayed vividly here and was sadly a part of the real Cristeros War. As the government, led by President Plutarco Elias Calles (Ruben Blades, Cradle Will Rock) begins its brutal crackdown and the movement goes underground, the atheist Garcia is approached to lead the rebellion. This aspect of the story is intriguing for obvious reasons, and screenwriter Michael Love revisits Garcia's conundrum throughout the film. The movie also takes an honest but decidedly brutal approach, killing off major characters and other favorites throughout, which could earn points for filmgoers looking for a complete story. While Love does allow some of his characters enough screentime to flourish, making their deaths all that more powerful, he leaves many more to just a smattering of scenes.
This is the directorial debut for Dean Wright, who served as Visual Effects Producer/Supervisor for The Lord of the Rings. Wright creates a lush background for our actors, surrounding them with beautiful vistas, elegant palaces, and desolate wastelands. He clearly knows how to direct, but it's his decision to keep much of what was shot in the film that ultimately drags it down. Even with a runtime of 2 hours and 23 minutes, Wright doesn't tell every story well, injecting several distracting subplots, such as the role of the US ambassador (Bruce Greenwood, Star Trek), Garcia's relationship with his wife (Eva Longoria, Desperate Housewives), and a discussion of how Mexican women served the underground by carrying bullets in their dresses. All of those lines are truly interesting, and would have made intriguing films by themselves, but there's too many of them to connect to the larger tale. By Act 3, several of these lines are abandoned, and will leave the audience to wonder why they were added in the first place. Even the efforts of composer James Horner (Field of Dreams) are squeezed into almost every nook and cranny of the film, giving even more feeling of a bloated affair. Sometimes silence can be more effective in creating the right mood (see Alien), but Glory misses that message and instead smothers the viewer.
Some critics will point out that Glory was partially funded by The Knights of Columbus, who assisted in brokering the cease-fire during the real Cristeros Wars, and that the film suffers from too strong of a religious message. In my opinion, the film ultimately fails because of its length and a cavalcade of characters that's ultimately too much to follow, not because of its funding or supposed message. Glory takes an honest look at a tough time in Mexico's history, a fact should be celebrated for getting this far, even if the final product doesn't pay off.
For Greater Glory won't smash any box office records, nor probably show up at the Oscars, but if you're looking to take some time off from the cacophony of explosions and cliched dialogue requisite in summer blockbusters, this one might do the trick, so long as you're willing to overlook its faults. For Greater Glory is rated R for violence and language. I would steer children far away from this one, as the tone is far too dark for young eyes.
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