For Greater Glory
Crafted with all the subtlety of a cannon blast, "For Greater Glory" is a merciless slog even when compared to other ’horrors of war’ films. A chronicle of Mexico’s oft-forgotten Cristeros War, spurred on by then President Calles decision to outlaw Christianity and public displays of faith, the film follows Christian crusaders as they fight and sacrifice for their cause. Like, say, "Red Tails," it is a moment in history more than worthy of our time and attention. But, also like "Red Tails," I just wish there had been more focus on the craft of the movie, and not so much focus on the crass moments of manipulation.
The most glaring issue is the length; at 2 hours and 23 minutes, getting through this film feels like a war in of itself. The battle scenes are visually bare; there’s not a dynamic moment in the whole film. And it’s hard to mine emotion from the maudlin plot - which, at its most operatic, plays around with the lives of pre-teen soldiers (to the audible dismay of many of the mothers in my audience) - when it is so much more dedicated to cliché speeches and rousing moments of victory than it is to honest character work and serious observations about religious struggle. I found myself struggling to stay awake, having got the message that ’religious persecution is bad’ two scenes in, the film had nothing left to say to me for the next 130 minutes.
I’m not speaking out against melodramatic tales of war; that’s a cinematic tradition ranging from the early days of Lewis Milestone and John Ford to films from months ago like "The Flowers of War" and "In Darkness."
But there’s simply nothing to recommend about "For Greater Glory": its message is admirable, important, even integral, but the film is not. It’s dialogue scenes are stilted; with all the accents whitewashed out and even star Andy Garcia (as the non-religious everyman) using an intonation that calls Brooklyn to mind, not Mexico. The photography is uninspired, with first-time helmer Dean Wright (a visual effects man by trade) aiming for an epic feel and coming out with a typical one. And don’t get me going on the intelligence-insulting score, which feels the need to underline every emotion you’re meant to feel with overbearing aggression (and this isn’t a one-time thing either - it’s every scene.)
The bright spots, like a performance from Oscar Isaac (of "Drive" and "W/E" fame) are few and far between; stranded among the endless cannon blasts and slow-motion moments of embellished emotion. But any attempt at honest pathos is immediately thwarted by the tone deaf loudness of the film - nothing ever feels honest, every scene is big and important, dealing in martyrdom and inspirational speeches and selfless decisions but never paying mind to the small moments that lead to the big ones. It wants you to feel heart-warmed by their dedication, or devastated by the ruthlessness of the atheist villains, but despite it’s eye-clawing length it never spends enough time with the characters on a human level to make the never-ending heroic moments take hold.
There is an audience for this film. The Cristeros War is a moment in Mexican history deserving of historical significance; such fights for freedom are rarely as selfless or successful. There is an innumerable amount of people out there tired of Hollywood’s whitewashing, of its resistance to using people of other nationalities in lead roles, and of its inclination to pretend nothing exists outside of the major cities of the United States. "For Greater Glory" is a film that aims to correct these mistakes, and not for a foreign audience - for an American one. It’s a gap that needs to be filled. I just wish the film made to fill it had been half-decent.