"For Greater Glory": A Bloated Mess of a Mexican Epic

Boasting such attributes as a rich, unmined vein of history for its subject matter, the Biblical landscape of northern Mexico for its backdrop, and faith tempered in the fire of battle at its heart, For Greater Glory has all the ingredients of a meaty historical epic laid out for it. Unfortunately, first-time director Dean Wright's Anglophone Mexican superproduction — a revanchist, Catholic answer to the leftist "Zapata westerns" — makes a hash of everything: It is plodding, lazily filmed, gassy with James Horner's score, and pads its runtime only by way of tolling repetition. For Greater Glory takes place during the Cristero War of 1926 to 1929, in which devout Mexicans took up arms against the anti-clerical government of President Calles (Rubén Blades), who actively prosecuted the historically counterrevolutionary Catholic Church. The sloppily fit-together tiles of screenwriter Michael James Love's historical mosaic depict agnostic General Velarde (Andy Garcia) reluctantly drilling rebellious rancheros and warrior-priests into the guerrilla army of the "Cristeros," the backroom negotiations of U.S. ambassador Dwight Morrow (Bruce Greenwood), and the martyrdom of crusading children and clergymen — including an exhumed Peter O'Toole, expiating sins while unhappily evoking Lawrence of Arabia. This bloated mess's crass piety invites a response from Whit Stillman's Damsels in Distress: "Vulgarity is, in essence, blasphemous."

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