With its shameless melodrama, ghoulish violence, and scenes of Christians being slaughtered en masse in holy places for the crime of publicly being Christians, the religious drama For Greater Glory feels an awful lot like evangelical Tribulation dramas such as Left Behind: The Movie and The Omega Code. But where those unintentional laugh riots prophesy a dark future where Christians have gone from being a powerful majority to a relentlessly persecuted minority, For Greater Glory chronicles a shameful period in the past. In this case, it’s the Cristero War, a 1920s conflict between the Mexican government and Catholic rebels after the government instituted brutal anti-clerical laws that, among other provisions, banned the public wearing of religious garb.
Andy Garcia stars as a retired general and non-believer who comes to the cause of the Catholic rebels at the behest of his devout wife. The anti-government rebels are outnumbered and outgunned, but they have righteousness and God on their side, as well as a powerful ally in an American diplomat (Bruce Greenwood) seeking a peaceful resolution to the conflict for boss Calvin Coolidge (Bruce McGill).
Peter O’Toole dominates the film’s first act as a twinkly-eyed, elfin priest whose otherworldly, maudlin goodness (he positively shimmers with godliness and divine light) renders him all too representative of the film’s starkly black-and-white conception of morality. For Greater Glory isn’t populated by recognizable human beings so much as by sneering, silent-movie-style villains and cardboard saints, some of them mere children, and some of them wearing collars as they stare down a righteous destiny. In spite of its R rating and sometimes horrifying imagery, For Greater Glory seems to belong in the classroom of a lazy Sunday-school teacher rather than a movie theater. It’s an endless, plodding educational tool of unusual bluntness and dull force, a blood-soaked primer on intolerance and religious persecution that would benefit from even the faintest tinge of moral ambiguity or narrative sophistication. For Greater Glory is based on true events, but it has the unmistakable feel of pure fiction.