Last night Aquinas and More took a bunch of our staff to see For Greater Glory. It left me shaken.
First, I'm going to get the problems I had with the film out of the way.
The producer (if he is the person who actually assembles scenes), needs some more film schooling. There were too many quick scenes between too many characters which left me unsure through most of the movie why some of the supporting cast in the towns were important. Since I don't speak Spanish, I didn't get that the town mayor was Bl. Jose's godfather until very late in the movie. I thought he was Jose's father and that their relationship was very strange. I also was confused about who Anacleto Flores was throughout the movie. I know he was in a lot of scenes but then he grew a beard. I also thought that Adriana (the gun runner) was his sister but I got that wrong, too. Finally, at the beginning of the movie there was a quick outside shot of the building where the resistance members worked but I missed the name on the building so I spent the rest of the movie wondering what the building was in all of the following shots.
In a past life, I spent a lot of time working on The Catholic Liturgical Library so I have an interest in liturgy and liturgical history. The vestments that the priests wore were beautiful but the director should have had a consultant from one of the Extraordinary Form orders, like the FSSP, on staff to make sure that silly anachronisms didn't make it into the film. First of all, the priests that served the Cristeros army said Mass using large hosts like those used in Ordinary Form parishes today which are typically broken up into a bunch of pieces and put with the rest of the hosts for Communion. The host that a priest of that time would really have used was typically under three inches across and he would have consumed it entirely himself. The second thing, and this makes me want to start raving every time I see it, is that until the Ordinary Form of the Mass was created, the communicants didn't say “Amen” like they did in this movie (and just about every modern movie that features a pre-Vatican II Mass).
On the positive side, the main cast of For Greater Glory held the film together well. Andy Garcia does a convincing job of inspiring the the Cristero army with the things they needed to hear while on a slow journey to believing in their cause. His character is pretty complex as he supports the Cristero cause because of his belief in religious freedom but at the beginning of the movie he is an atheist who doesn't believe anything about the Church but humors his wife by letting her raise their children Catholic. When she expresses her worry that they won't get confirmed or learn their catechism he says he'll teach them science until the problems blow over. In real life, Andy Garcia's character was a mason which made his acceptance of the leadership of the army even more remarkable. In the movie and in real life he explained that he was bored running a soap factory and the Cristeros were paying him twice what the Federales paid their officers.
Peter O'Toole is memorable in his role as an old priest who doesn't believe that the Church should take up arms. He gets into an argument with Father Vega, who eventually becomes a general in the Cristero army, over what the proper role of the clergy in the dispute should be. Peter O'Toole, as Father Christopher, takes the path of comforting the suffering. Both end up dead – Father Christopher, shot by a firing squad in front of his church, and Father Vega, from wounds in battle. Father Christopher has been beatified, Father Vega has not. If you remember The Mission, a similar dilemma developed between Jeremy Irons's character Father Gabriel, who was shot while leading a Eucharistic procession of his mission Indians, and Robert DeNiro's character Rodrigo Mendoza, who was killed while fighting against the Portuguese.
The scenes throughout the movie of government atrocities including church burning, killing clergy by firing squad and the countless people hung from telegraph poles are horrific enough and move the US ambassador to demand full amnesty for all of the Cristeros from the Mexican President but it is the martyrdom of Jose that is the most chilling scenes in the movie. Remembering that Jose is only fourteen and that his GODFATHER (played by Nestor Carbonell of Lost fame) repeatedly encourages him to apostatize makes the scene all the more powerful. Would any of us have this young boy's courage? Yikes.
An interesting footnote to the history of the Cristiada is that at the end many masons and anti-Catholics had joined the Cristero rebellion for the purposes of overthrowing the government. They hoped that the Catholics would keep fighting but with the agreements to remove the worst of the anti-Catholic laws and amnesty for the rebels, most of the Catholics went home and the remaining rebels were defeated and the leaders executed. It is also interesting to note that the full repeal of these laws didn't occur until 1992.
Movies that display true courage, such as Gettysburg, Master and Commander, A Man for All Seasons and For Greater Glory always force me to ask myself how I would react under those circumstances. I appreciate movies that force that question on an audience because they go beyond simply entertaining and ask you to look inward at your own convictions.
Overall, the movie is well worth seeing. The filming is gorgeous and the main characters make up for the problems with the skimping on the secondary characters. If you do go see For Greater Glory, I recommend showing up 15 minutes after the movie time. Since the movie is rated “R” you will be subjected to a constant stream of raunchy previews until the movie starts. Considering the current disputes in our own country over Church rights, the banning of religious symbols in public places, and the rhetoric used by the Left against Christianity in general and the Catholic Church specifically, this movie is a prophetic warning about the road we could be headed down in the future.
Be sure to stay through the credits.
You can also read some more background on the events in the movie here.