Director Dean Wright faced a major hurdle in putting together his epic feature "For Greater Glory." It wasn't enough that he had to create interesting characters to carry moviegoers through the story of Mexico's Cristero War of the 1920s.
He also realized many moviegoers will have no knowledge of this conflict. Wright had to provide enough explanation for the film to be understood, but not so much that he bored those already aware of this dark period.
In general, he does just that. Wright uses a structure that looks at three very different characters linked by a deep need to right government wrongs.
There's Andy Garcia's moving performance as General Gorostieta, a retired military man who joins the rebel fight motivated by a call of duty and financial gain. His military approach is a counterbalance to the passionate fire of rebel leader Victoriano "El Catorce" Ramirez (Oscar Isaac). And then there's the young Jose (Mauricio Kuri) whose desire to avenge wrongs reflects a much older heart.
The story of these men plays out against the bloody revolution that raged from 1926-1929, sparked by the ban by Mexican President Plutarco Elias Calles (Rubén Blades) on the public religious practices of Roman Catholics.
The film is at its best when Wright focuses on his principal players, giving the conflict a very human face. The best example is a scene in which Gorostieta and Calles meet to discuss the war. It's a simple scene but a perfect venue for Garcia and Blades to drive home the emotions of this story.
When Wright turns to the more traditional battle stories, his pacing and direction come across more like a made-for-television movie than a large screen event. The scenes are far too structured, as if all he did was film Cristero War re-enactors.
Part of the problem is Michael Love's script, which tends to wander away just when one of the very personal stories gets interesting. There's also a disconnect between Gorostieta and his wife (Eva Longoria). She's the wife of a career military man so some distance is expected. But quiet moments where the two could connect passionately are disappointing.
The work by Garcia and Blades is reason enough to see the movie. The bonus is a little bit of history that's offered up in the process of telling the story.
"For Greater Glory," rated R for violence and graphic war images. Stars Andy Garcia, Oscar Isaac, Eva Longoria, Rubén Blades, Mauricio Kuri. Directed by Dean Wright. Running time: 123 minutes. Grade: B- Theaters and times for this movie | Other movie reviews
TV and movie critic Rick Bentley can be reached at (559) 441-6355, email@example.com or @RickBentley1 on Twitter. Read his blog at fresnobeehive.com.