'For Greater Glory' Review: Religious Freedom Epic Couldn't Be More Timely

'For Greater Glory' Review: Religious Freedom Epic Couldn't Be More Timely

The timing of “For Greater Glory’s” release feels like the work of a whole lot of prayer.

Just when Catholics across the nation are battling the Obama administration in court over religious liberties a film recalling a chapter in Mexican history in which Catholics were killed for practicing their faith in public gets a wide theatrical release.

“Glory” recounts the bloody battles between the Leftist Mexican government, which tried to snuff out Catholicism in the 1920s, and a band of faith-based warriors willing to die for the right to practice their preferred religion.

The stakes were clearly higher during the Cristero War than today, but the yearning for religious freedom connects it with the Church’s modern struggles. 

Mexican President Plutarco Calles (Ruben Blades, dialing down what could have been a heavy-handed performance) isn’t happy with the Church’s presence in Mexican life. So he takes small but firm measures to discourage prayer in public and erase Catholic influence in the classroom. When the results of his decree don’t meet to his satisfaction, he takes more drastic – and murderous – actions. 

Mexican Catholics revolt, but they soon realize they need a battle-tested leader if they hope to win the war against the president’s brutal rules. So they contact Gen. Velarde (Andy Garcia), a man of indifferent faith but a rich legacy of war-time heroism.

Under the general’s leadership, the rebels make inroads against the formidable Mexican army. But can such a modest rebellion keep the faith while being pounded by the country’s armed forces?

“For Greater Glory” operates on a far smaller budget than most modern epics even if the sweeping vistas rival projects with double the cash allotment. But in casting Garcia the filmmakers get their money’s worth. The grossly underrated actor is given a killer role, the leader of a religious movement who isn’t sure what he believes. Garcia isn’t just your standard-issue war hero. He’s a family man who weeps at the thought of a young child in harm’s way.

Said child plays a pivotal role in the film and underscores “Glory’s” willingness to show the brutality of war without filters. The decision may turn away some viewers, but in the context of war the subplot works as intended.

Eva Longoria gets too little screen time to register as the general’s devoted spouse, but Peter O’Toole makes the most of his extended cameo as a priest who won’t be bullied by government thugs.

“For Greater Glory” sags mid-film, as if all the various story elements suddenly stop working in unison. But the film’s final third rallies in a significant way, led by Garcia’s gritty performance and some crackling action sequences.

“Glory” deserves serious attention – and respect – at a time when popcorn blockbusters are all the rage in movie houses.