Blood and guts, but no Glory

The Gold Coast Bulletin - Play Magazine - - MOVIES -

IF di­rec­tor Michael Bay woke up one day and said to him­self, ‘‘I need to make a movie about re­li­gious per­se­cu­tion in 1920s Mex­ico’’, it’s likely it would look some­thing like this.

Which is to say it would be a loud, vi­o­lent, over­long mess of a movie, reek­ing of melo­drama and filled with beau­ti­ful ac­tors.

That’s For Greater Glory in a nut­shell. Bay, the man­child be­hind Trans­form­ers and Ar­maged­don, had noth­ing to do with this film. But his in­sa­tiable ap­petite for ex­cess must have been a blue­print for this Mex­i­can pro­duc­tion. While For Greater Glory was made with­out block­buster money – it was fi­nanced in­de­pen­dently – it walks and talks like a Hol­ly­wood prod­uct.

The cast in­cludes Andy Gar­cia, Eva Lon­go­ria, Peter O’Toole and Catalina Sandino Moreno of Maria Full of Grace. Most are Span­ish-speak­ing ac­tors, yet the film was shot en­tirely in English.

As a would-be war epic, it has bold as­pi­ra­tions, and the ex­plo­sive spe­cial ef­fects and rapid-fire edit­ing to back them up.

The movie drama­tises a sliver of tu­mul­tuous Mex­i­can his­tory called the Cris­tero War. In 1926, Mex­i­can Pres­i­dent Plutarco Calles’s anti-cler­i­cal regime be­gan vi­o­lently sup­press­ing Ro­man Catholics, even ex­e­cut­ing priests. This gave way to a rag­tag group of rev­o­lu­tion­ar­ies call­ing them­selves Cris­teros. Priests be­come gun-tot­ing freedom fight­ers led by re­tired gen­eral (Gar­cia), an athe­ist.

‘‘I may have is­sues with the church, but I be­lieve in re­li­gious freedom,’’ he says, the rebel leader’s re­li­gious dis­cov­ery one of many sub­plots.

Ex­ac­er­bat­ing the prob­lem: Ev­ery new scene is ush­ered on to the screen with a full sym­phony of choral mu­sic. The film’s over-the-top sound­track comes courtesy of Avatar and Ti­tanic com­poser James Horner, a guy who has never heard a crescendo he didn’t like.

The di­rec­tor, Dean Wright, is a vet­eran vi­sual­ef­fects wiz who su­per­vised the lat­ter two Lord of the Rings films. His vi­sion of in­sur­gent war­fare brings to mind the clas­sic 1966 film The Bat­tle of Al­giers, which pit­ted French oc­cu­piers against a Mus­lim re­bel­lion. But where Gillo Pon­tecorvo’s film was a mas­ter­piece of taut film­mak­ing, Wright’s style is all burn­ing crosses and child tor­ture.

The film’s fi­nanciers, which in­clude a Mex­i­can real es­tate de­vel­oper and the Knights of Colum­bus, have been quoted say­ing the church vs state parable is a timely cri­tique of US Pres­i­dent Barack Obama’s birth con­trol man­date. At the same time, Gar­cia and cast­mates say this isn’t a pro­pa­ganda film.

Pol­i­tics aside, For Greater Glory’s main is­sue is this: It’s an over­wrought ac­tion film that will blud­geon you into sub­mis­sion. Michael Bay would be proud.

– TOM HOR­GEN, Star Tri­bune

For Greater Glory opens to­day.

For Greater Glory.

Andy Gar­cia stars in over­wrought Mex­i­can ac­tion epic

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