Jazz, film, and improvised culture.
For Greater Glory: the Fight for Religious Liberty in Mexico
could be said socialist “President” Plutarco Calles made Mexico a holier
place. He was ultimately responsible for
the canonization of twenty-five Mexican saints, by martyring them during the
Christero War. His brutal “anti-clerical”
laws inspired a heroic rebellion, dramatized in Dean Wright’s For Greater Glory (trailer here), which would have
been thematically appropriate for Memorial Day weekend but opens this Friday across
the country instead.
Enrique Gorostieta Velarde does not believe in the Catholic faith, but in
religious liberty—perhaps enough to even die for it. He has also been offered an unusually high
salary to take command of the hardscrabble Christero forces. Before his appointment, the Christero rebels
had won embarrassing victories, but they were not considered a serious threat
to the Calles regime. However,
Gorostieta is a man to be reckoned with.
is a duly elected dictator, who razes churches and executes foreign born
priests like the kindly Father Christopher, played by Peter O’Toole (who must
enjoy the irony of such a pious role, given his notoriously checkered private
life). Glory is not shy about depicting the violent oppression meted out
by the Calles forces, most notably with their treatment of José Luis Sánchez
del Río, the captured mascot of Gorostieta’s army, who joined the Christeros
after witnessing Father Christopher’s state-sanctioned murder. However, the film does not just wave the
bloody shirt. Christeros like the legendary
“El Catorce” take the battle to the Federales good and hard, heedless of their
superior numbers, in several satisfying scenes of vintage warfighting.
course, Glory is a prime example of
one of the fundamental laws of cinema: don’t mess with Andy Garcia. Perfectly cast as Gorostieta, he captures
both the swagger and the gravitas of the principled man of action. It is easy to see why men would follow him
into battle. Just as Garcia looks the
part of Gorostieta, Ruben Blades is the near spitting image of Calles, aptly
conveying his arrogance and ruthlessness.
Cabrera is also quite a riveting presence as Father Vega, a priest turned guerrilla
general, while young Mauricio Kuri is surprisingly poised as Sánchez del Río. It is a strong and accomplished cast, even
featuring Oscar nominee Catalina Sandino Morena (for Maria Full of Grace) as Christero fund-raiser Adriana. Though a bit of an undercooked role, she
projects a strong presence nonetheless.
However, Eva Longoria seems to be dropped into the film merely for
decorative effect as Gorostieta’s wife, Tulita.
Arguably, the most intriguing supporting turn comes from the
ever-reliable Bruce Greenwood as American Ambassador Dwight Morrow, sent to
broker a deal to keep the petroleum flowing, duly fulfilling his brief despite
the twinges of his conscience.
Glory shines a spotlight on some conveniently
overlooked Mexican and American history.
Had Coolidge been more Reaganite and backed the Christeros, the Twentieth
Century might have been much more prosperous and pleasant for Mexico. Instead, Calles’s PRI party would dominate Mexico
for decades, whereas Calles himself briefly took refuge in America during a
period of involuntary exile, where he fell in with the marginalized fascist
movement (maybe he even met Morrow’s future son-in-law, Charles Lindbergh). Frankly, he ought to be regarded as one of
history’s worst despots.
Glory is not exactly the most nuanced
film, but there is not a lot of room for subtlety in such a brazen episode of
religious persecution. Though director
Dean Wright’s background is in special effects, he shows a strong aptitude for
old school cavalry and artillery battles.
(The English language dialogue is a bit of a misstep though, in contrast
to the greater authenticity subtitled Spanish would have lent the film.) Pretty stirring stuff, For Greater Glory is earnestly recommended for everyone concerned about
state encroachments on religious liberty, but still enjoys a sweeping
historical tragedy. It opens nationwide this
Friday (6/1), including the AMC Empire and Village 7 theaters in New York.
Labels: Andy Garcia, Cristero Revolution