Religious-themed movies often struggle between two poles: they are either solid on faith content but light on technical acumen, or they flourish in the art of movie-making while skimming lightly over the religious issues or mangling them altogether. However, For Greater Glory, released nationally last Friday, is a finely wrought, well-constructed film not exactly about religious faith per se, but rather about one particular historical struggle for religious freedom that took place just south of America’s borders between 1926-1929. The “Cristero Rebellion” in Mexico, virtually unheard of by most of us, was the response by Catholics to the crushing oppression meted out by Mexican President Plutarco Elias Calles. The brutish President had ordered the slaughter of priests and churchgoers and devastated churches under a series of repressive laws that outlawed everything from the wearing of clerical apparel to the voicing of sermons that criticized the government. Well-known actor Andy Garcia plays the real-life reluctant hero of the rebellion, a hard-boiled retired General who at first is in it only for a paycheck, but slowly comes to understand the importance of religious liberty. The cast includes other Hollywood notables such as Peter O’Toole, Eva Longoria and Bruce Greenwood. The director is Dean Wright, who handled visual effects for the Lord of the Rings trilogy, and composer James Horner developed the film score.
Clearly the Catholic faithful and their leaders are the heroes in the film, but the story doesn’t shirk from the difficult questions that arise when religious persecution raises its ugly head: Should persons of faith obey a corrupt law that criminalizes religious activity and expression – or should they passively resist, or even actively rebel? The movie shows how bad things can go when even well-intentioned armed resistance is mounted. In one scene there is a depiction of a factual incident where a railroad car was intentionally torched by a “Cristeros” religious leader, causing the deaths of some 51 innocent passengers. Scripture gives the Christian guidelines on relationships with government, of course: the general rule of obedience is repeatedly emphasized (Romans 13: 1-7; I Peter 2:13-17). Yet there are also occasional exceptions (Exodus 1: 15-21; Daniel 3: 8 – 18; Acts 16:35-40). In the final analysis, For Greater Glory raises important questions for the follower of Christ, for the student of religious liberty, and for many Americans who sense a rising tide of intolerance against religious expression and observance within our own borders. The reader is cautioned that the movie is rated “R” for depictions of violence.
A special thanks to Grace Hill Media and Jonathan Bock for providing this reviewer and the NRB staff with a screening of For Greater Glory.
Senior Vice-President & General Counsel
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