Monday, June 4, 2012

For Greater Glory

By John W. Kennedy

Review: Though shot on locating in Mexico, For Greater Glory is an all-star epic war saga in the grand Hollywood tradition. The historic drama, a sort of Mexican Braveheart, tells of the story of the Cristero War (1926-1929), a conflict few Mexicans — let alone Americans – are aware ever happened.

Without getting into why that may be, it seems remarkably ironic that the film is released less than two weeks after 43 Catholic institutions filed lawsuits against the U.S. federal government’s push to require them to include contraceptives in their employee healthcare packages, an effort the Catholic organizations contend infringes on their religious beliefs. The Mexican government, of course, was actually banning the celebration of the Mass and wasn’t above violent — and even murderous — intimidation. But, still, the issue of government intrusion on religion continues to have resonance.

The story definitely deserves to be told and, for the most part, it’s told well here. Andy Garcia delivers captivating performance as the agnostic rebel leader Gorostieta Velarde, whose non-faith is challenged by the commitment of his troops. The best performance (Oscar-worthy really), however, probably is given by Mauricio Kuri as José Luis Sánchez del Rio, the teen boy who first befriends a priest (Peter O’Toole) who is ultimately murdered at the hands of the government and, after joining the resistance, befriends General Velarde.

The scene in which the boy suffers martyrdom for refusing to renounce his faith is brutal and gut-wrenching. I’m told it was actually restrained — considering what was actually done to the boy. Suffice it to say, the scene goes a long way in earning the movie its R rating. Personally, I think it may have been wise to suggest more and show less here. For instance, more cutaways to General Velarde’s efforts to find and reach the boy in time to save him may have added a heightened sense of suspense while still effectively conveying Luis powerful faith and ultimate sacrifice.

As a whole though, the film is a riveting reminder that religious liberty is, indeed, a value worth cherishing. For Greater Glory is strongly recommended for adults but you should be aware of the violence of that particular scene before making your movie-going choice.

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