Andy Garcia is Heroic, Story Isn’t in ‘For Greater Glory’

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CHICAGO – “For Greater Glory” attempts to bring back the David Lean style epic – even recruiting Peter O’Toole from “Lawrence of Arabia” to participate – in the story of a Mexican religious war in the 1920s. While a sincere effort, it can’t match the story to the epic history. The cast includes Andy Garcia, Eva Longoria and Bruce Greenwood.

Without knowledge of this 20th century footnote, the premise of an atheist president outlawing the Catholic Church in Mexico seems impossible now, but that is what happened. The acting is mucho heartfelt, as the cast works diligently to portray an important piece of history. Andy Garcia strikes a perfect balance between his heroic stance and the conflict his character feels about religion in the first place, but the film is muddled and focuses on story elements that are not as compelling as the main conflict.

In 1920s post revolution Mexico, President Pultarco Calles (Ruben Blades) cracks down on the Catholic Church and religious freedom in general, fearing a conservative backlash to the new government. The laws are heavily enforced, priests are exiled from their parishes and mass is forbidden to be said. When a peaceful protest proves fruitless, and the government starts executing dissenters, armed civil war begins within the country.

Andy Garcia as General Gorostieta in ‘For Greater Glory’
Andy Garcia as General Gorostieta in ‘For Greater Glory
Photo credit: Hana Matsumoto for ARC Entertainment

The war quickly becomes personal. Young teenager José Luis Sanchez (Mauricio Kurl) witnesses the execution of Father Christopher (Peter O’Toole) and vows to fight with the rebels. General Gorostieta (Andy Garcia) reluctantly is recruited into the conflict, despite the protests of his wife (Eva Longoria) and lack of religious conviction. As the casualties pile up, the United States gets involved, as Mexican Ambassador Dwight Morrow (Bruce Greenwood) intervenes with the president. Despite the knifepoint of the Federal troops, historic progress is made by the willingness of the Cristeros (soldiers of Christ) to continue battling for their freedom to worship.

This is a noble film, a noble effort and we need more of this type of sincerity at the cinema. BUT…the story is structured in many wrong directions, including the focus on the José character. It is unfortunate that the young actor couldn’t understand the gravity of the weight that his character bore. He is a martyr, and sometimes martyrs are so singularly motivated that they might come off as sociopathic. The call from the actor Kurl was to have one expression, that of pure pain. It’s impossible to know what motivated the real Sanchez to do what he did, but there needed to be more variety in the character to make it work.

Andy Garcia as General Gorostieta was a highlight of the film. He is expressing his maturity as a performer, and he carried the agnostic nature of the General even into battle. There is a call throughout the film to have him confess to a fellow soldier who happens to be a priest (Santiago Cabrera as Father Vega) and the General’s hesitation also informs the character. Garcia had a balancing act, bringing more to the table, and he enriched the heroism of the conflicted persona.

The history becomes absorbing, once the preliminaries and high drama are dispatched – overwrought drama which includes Peter O’Toole’s star turn as a priest dissenter. The United States intervention is essentially true, and is married with the newly found oil fields in Mexico that corporations want to exploit. And it was the U.S. Knights of Columbus, the Catholic lay organization, that laid the groundwork so Bruce Greenwood’s ambassador character could intervene. The film was also financed in part by the K of C, which could be to its detriment. The Knights aren’t stupid when it comes to a bit of good public relations, especially in super-Catholic Mexico.

Eva Longoria as Tulita, General Gorostieta’s Wife, in ‘For Greater Glory’
Eva Longoria as Tulita, General Gorostieta’s Wife, in ‘For Greater Glory’
Photo credit: Hana Matsumoto for ARC Entertainment

The film also knew how to cast, apart from the José character. The problem was that many of the main soldier characters looked alike, so it was confusing at times as to who was who. The aforementioned Bruce Greenwood is one of the finest character actors working, and no one will ever question the casting of Bruce McGill as President Calvin Coolidge.

The best way to view “For Greater Glory” is through the lens of grand opera rather than the cohesion of history or storytelling. This is mostly about the warriors and their cause – onward Christian soldiers, as the old hymn goes.

“For Greater Glory” opened on June 1st. Featuring Andy Garcia, Eva Longoria, Bruce Greenwood, Santiago Cabrera, Peter O’Toole and Mauricio Kurl. Screenplay by Michael Love. Directed by Dean Wright. Rated “R”

HollywoodChicago.com senior staff writer Patrick McDonald

By PATRICK McDONALD
Senior Staff Writer
HollywoodChicago.com
pat@hollywoodchicago.com

© 2012 Patrick McDonald, HollywoodChicago.com

corazondelmaguey's picture

Greater Glory ...

I hope you are not saying “we all look a like” the differences in the male characters are obvious to fans of Latino Films!!

PatrickMcD's picture

I was referring merely to

I was referring merely to the way they costumed the soldiers and their facial hair.

Manny be down's picture

"Greater Glory"

Kinda interesting to me because I was not aware there was no religious liberty at that time in Mexico

ziggy one of the best's picture

Greater Glory

kind of interesting to know that they had outlaw religion in that country

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