The road to movie hell is paved with the remaindered DVDs of well-intentioned films. Add to that list For Greater Glory, a good-hearted film that barely keeps its head above water as it treads in this muck of historical epic with religious underpinnings. Financed in part by the Knights of Columbus, it’s impossible to look at the film and its religiosity as separate entities. Luckily, the film doesn’t exist to be a religious tract, but instead serves as a historical document centering around the Cristeros War, where Mexican rebels fought their oppressive government for religious freedom. The ultimate point of For Greater Glory isn’t about the religion itself, but rather about the lives that were sacrificed for religious freedom.
The film’s desire for epic scope makes for strange bedfellows with its inherently downbeat nature, however. On one hand, you have a film that wants to be oh-so-grand, with a glut of characters lost in the big, unwieldy nature of the story. Because of this, you never get the opportunity to become sympathetic towards anyone. This is a problem in a movie that—when all is said and done—wants to hit the audience with an emotional punch. Character growth just sort of happens, and in the most obvious of movie cliche fashions. Take our protagonist, Enrique (Andy Garcia), an adamant atheist who gets hired to lead an army fighting in the name of Christianity. Or “El Catorce” (Oscar Isaac, Drive), a bandit fighting on the side of the rebels, but who’s reluctant to take orders from others. If you have ever watched a movie, odds are you already know exactly how these two men’s stories—and everyone else’s—will turn out in the final reel.
The only real surprises in the film come from it’s total disregard for the lives of its characters. No one is safe—almost to the point that the film feels as if it’s finally over (and at 130-plus minutes, that takes a while) only after first-time director Dean Wright runs out of characters to knock-off. But—as I mentioned earlier—this chutzpah has little effect, since these are flimsy, cardboard characters that Wright is trying to make us get misty-eyed over. Without a true emotional center to film, however, all we’re left with is war and death. There are attempts at looking at the needless, wasteful nature of war, but little of it matters in the end.
In For Greater Glory’s favor, there is some nice production value of 1920s Mexico for a $12 million movie. Plus, there’s a solid—even amazing, at times—cast led by Andy Garcia and a welcome group of Latino actors. (The less said about the wide-eyed Peter O’Toole, however, the better.) But in the end, it all seems like such a forgettable waste. For Greater Glory is the most basic of movies, going by the book and doing nothing else, and soaring to the heights of superfluousness. Rated R for war violence and some disturbing images.