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Here is the short version:

Handsomely photographed but pious and simplistic story of the Cristeros – Mexican Catholics who fought back against a government crackdown in the 1920’s. It’s never really clear why the bad-guy soldiers take such delight in hanging priests, torturing children, and burning crucifixes. And it’s all too clear why retired general Enrique Velarde (a wooden and sleepy Andy Garcia) decides to help out: he’s tired of making soap, plus, “I believe in religious liberty.” Well, okay then. There is a story here about the road to faith, but the scope is far too broad for it to show properly, even as the perspective is far too narrow.

One star.

Slightly longer version: Oscar Isaac makes the most of his role as the Han Solo-style cynic to Eduardo Verastegui's true believing Luke Skywalker. Ruben Blades does fine work as a politician who views religion as a political problem. And the young Mauricio Kuri brings an affecting believability to his portrayal of a boy caught up in an ideal. Beats are hit, complexities are introduced, and epic sweep is intimated - and yet.

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TomGMS June 19, 2012 @ 10:58 a.m.

Well now I feel silly. I spent about 6 hours out of a day writing a ridiculously long response to this review, only to find at long last after writing it that there is a character limit. It has to be 3000 characters to my 18000. Maybe that just shows that it was a colossal waste of time for me to have attempted to do. Oh well. I have the comment saved as a Microsoft Word document, so if anyone wants to read it, I dunno, I can tweet it via twitlonger or something.



Matthew Lickona June 19, 2012 @ 12:32 p.m.

Well, you could always break it up into six 3000 word comments, one after the other?


TomGMS June 19, 2012 @ 6:44 p.m.

Number 0*: A Preface. Before you read this tl;dr tome, you should know I'm not a professional movie critic, nor do I do this often: I am merely a Catholic who is disappointed in your take on this movie. FYI my older brother who directed me to your review (I'm pretty sure he agrees with you) says I am stuffy and overly serious about almost everything, so I apologize in advance for, well, everything. But here I go...

Number 1: That's it? In response to the review as a whole...the words That's it? are left on my mind. As I see it, you made one good point, two cheap shots, and one blanket criticism, the reasoning behind which is left unexplained. I am surprised that your review of a +2 hour movie is so, I hesitate to use the word "dismissive" but I can't think of another way to put it so I will, dismissive.

On top of that, in the aptly titled "Slightly longer version", you pointed out a few of the positive points about the film - and yet. "And yet"? What does that even mean? Is the reader to assume that the 6.33 lines of criticism that is the first paragraph catalyzes sufficiently what makes this movie only worth one star? I guess so. But away from that, and on to your analysis, and your four points.

Number 2: The one good point you made. The one good point is the point about the soldiers. The movie is a historical account, so most of the events of the movie certainly did occur at some point in history. But the, to use your word, delight that the moustachio'd officer shows in carrying out the torture of children is not explained. Did he have a problematic history with the Church? Is his atheism or agnosticism so pervasive that torturing God-fearing children becomes a cheerful task? Or is he a pro-Calles fanatic? etc. Also, in the Church raid where the troops lynch a priest, the troops ruthlessly assail religious relics and sacramentals...to send a message to the people? What soldier in a predominantly Catholic country would agree to that? Were the Catholic soldiers weeded out and replaced with hardcore Calles supporters? Is the Mexican army full of heartless, cruel fiends to begin with, whereas everyone who didn't join the army was a believing, practicing Catholic? Excepting that one fellow who gave arms and ammo to Cristeros, is each and every soldier ready to obey even the most distasteful command? Do they genuinely hate the Church? All these questions are alas left unanswered, and would have, quite frankly, been easily answered.**

Number 3: Your first cheap shot. You made two (in my stuffy and overly serious opinion) cheap shots, the first of which is that the story is "pious and simplistic".***My answer to the charge of piety is that without a real and honest portrayal of the religion of the people, this movie would be a cold, inhuman historical drama which would focus more on the incongruity of an agnostic general leading devout Catholics into battle...


TomGMS June 19, 2012 @ 6:45 p.m.

in which case the complaint would be made that this movie does not nearly devote enough attention to the reason of the rebellion's existence: namely the people's freedom to practice their religion openly and freely. I thought the movie did a fine job of portraying a strong Catholic society full of strong Catholic families and characters and their genuine interest in preserving their religious liberty to practice their faith. Where else do you see such Catholic sacraments as the Holy Eucharist, Matrimony, Confirmation, Baptism, and Penance so cleanly and honestly portrayed? Certainly not Hollywood.

The sacraments are portrayed in such a pious manner as to contradict the lies and propaganda of Calles, who purports that Catholic ceremonies in some way disturb the peace or are a threat to democracy. That the movie is simplistic seems less a problem and more of a reality. The story is simple enough: a brutal dictator denies Catholics their religious freedom, Catholics figure out that they'll have to rise up, they recruit the General to lead them, and they go on to victory. It is a simple enough story. A History Channel special wouldn't have done nearly as good a job of accurately conveying the realities of life under Calles.

Number 4: Cheap shot the second. On to your second cheap shot, which I quote here: "...it’s all too clear why retired general Enrique Velarde (a wooden and sleepy Andy Garcia) decides to help out: he’s tired of making soap, plus, “I believe in religious liberty.” Well, okay then." First of all, Velarde's weariness of soapmaking was what pushed him over the edge. Second of all, "I believe in religious liberty" is not his only line of reasoning as regards his military if not explicitly religious support of the Cristeros: his wife will not be able to raise their children with the sacraments under the Calles regime, and Velarde, despite his agnosticism, is OK with this. While he does not, during the times when these issues are presented before him, begin to show any interest in taking action alongside the Cristeros, these issues remain on his mind as he sees events in Mexico play out. When he is visited by the representative of the League of Religious Liberty, he is not unsympathetic to their cause - it is his agnostic, military perspective that dictates to him that religious people with no military experience will scarcely be able to resist the Calles regime. The LRL rep telling him about their organization was thorough, with the exception of a central command, sufficed to fulfill the missing angle in Velarde's perspective - that the Catholics WOULD fight, that they HAD the means, and that all they needed was a leader.

After ALL these goings-on, the role played in the recruitment of Velarde by the line about soapmaking was, to me, dwarfed by the surrounding circumstances. That is why I believe it is a cheap shot.


TomGMS June 19, 2012 @ 6:46 p.m.

I don't agree that the wooden sleepiness of Andy Garcia is a negative. I think that a Mexican general who has been away from the battlefield for some time enjoying civilian retirement would more than likely look and sound like Garcia's Velarde. Truth be told, this point is less black-and-white than the previous points, and I can understand if you are simply not enthused by Garcia's performance...however, I see his character develop into a patient, thoughtful character from an initially sleepy, wooden character. Certainly, when we first see the General, he appears as you describe him...the type of person who, in another time, would have had the attention of everyone in the room when he spoke, but lately has felt the effects of retirement. I think that aspect changes: Velarde becomes passionate about the Cristeros movement, at first viewing them mockingly from the outside (indicated by, among others, the scene of Velarde drinking while the Padre celebrates Mass [ad orientem I was delighted to see!] ), and gradually seeing the power of the Catholic faith on display in the courage of the young boy, Jose. All this is what I believe to be a very well-done portrayal of, as you put it, "the road to faith". This journey is the whole reason Velarde begins to give %110 of himself to the Cristeros, which is a significant step towards the turning point of the war.

Number 5: Your blanket criticism of the movie

I hereby quote:

"There is a story here about the road to faith, but the scope is far too broad for it to show properly, even as the perspective is far too narrow."

There is much more than a story about the road to faith. The scope is not too broad for that story to show properly. The perspective of this movie is not too narrow.

I could stop there but that would be...well, doing basically what you did...saying things without giving reasons for why you believe those things are right. Look, maybe I'm not as clever as my brother, and maybe your reviews are intended for people who know exactly what you're thinking even when you're not saying it, and if so, so be it, but as someone who enjoyed this movie I have to say I don't follow most of what you said.

Number 6: a clumsy attempt to comment on the concept of the proverbial "Based on a True Story" Movie without sounding like I know exactly what I’m talking about…which I don’t. This movie is a film which is based on a true story: it recounts historical events with historically accurate characters. There is a lot of history here as well as a lot of truth. It's a lot to take in, yes, but it is all truth. There really was a General Velarde, a Verastegui, etc. All the accounts were not completely accurate, including the death of Victoriano Ramirez (in reality he unfortunately died in disgrace, having grown increasingly disgruntled with the movement) and the train incident regarding Father Vega, whom is not historically regarded as quite so squeaky-clean (he burned the train on purpose IRL).


TomGMS June 19, 2012 @ 6:47 p.m.

It is always difficult to make historically accurate movies which are based on a true story, because most historical events that tell stories have winners and losers. The movie makers either want to make the winners look awesome, or make the losers look heroic. In this movie, there's no denying the winners are made to look awesome.

But consider how little this segment of world history is taught, and the lesson it carries to Americans today! How recently was Pope Benedict XVI in Cuba discussing such like issues? How recently has the religious liberty of Americans everywhere been challenged by a mandate sending the universal American tax dollar to abortion? These things are important, and as (I'd like to think) a fellow opponent of infringements on religious liberty, I would expect you to at the very least appreciate what this movie is saying, if not necessarily prefer the style of storytelling, or whatever it is your problems are.

Number 7: "the scope is far too broad", to which I say “Is it really?” and other stuff Is it really? The scope of a historical movie must be broad, because as time goes by, historical events become less and less one-dimensional. Recent history has less to do with only one person doing one thing in one place at one time as with numerous people in numerous places doing numerous things at numerous times. I think the latter is the case in this movie. There are clearly numerous people whose accounts of their involvement in the Cristeros War are historically valid...perhaps this movie would have benefited from focusing solely on Velarde and his journey as a general returning from retirement, a defender of religious liberty, more to the point a defender of his family and their religious liberty, and a man seeing Catholicism under a new light, the movie would have benefited. The scope would then have been narrowed and the perspective widened to take in everything Velarde. But if that were the case...the movie would not be giving sufficient credit to everyone involved in the Cristeros War.

Number 8: This movie is more than a historical movie This movie is a historical movie which, by virtue of its existence, pays tribute to a people with whom we can perhaps not wholly identify, but from whom we can draw inspiration for dealing with present-day problems relating to religious liberty. Anyone who at the very least appreciates the story being told here should feel that these people deserve a story told which includes the contributions of as many members of the movement as possible, not merely making it a "General Velarde rallies the Catholics against the forces of evil and they win" movie, but a "General Velarde joins forces with the Cristero army, supplying the needed military backbone while himself undergoing a personal journey at the same time, and they still win".


TomGMS June 19, 2012 @ 6:47 p.m.

Returning to the idea of tribute, I believe the people in the Cristeros War deserve an ensemble type film...not so much that we recognize (through familiarity) the actors' names, but that we recognize (AT ALL) as many members of this War for Religious Freedom as possible.

Number 9: Your conclusion...and yet...my conclusion too.

Your conclusion reads as follows:

"Beats are hit, complexities are introduced, and epic sweep is intimated - and yet."

I have to assume a lot from this sentence, and, don't take this personally, but this is a literary style that quite frankly belongs in a poem, and not in a movie review. By "beats are hit" I must assume you are not satisfied with the beats. By "complexities are introduced" I assume you are unimpressed with the complexities, or are unimpressed with the resolution of said complexities. By "and epic sweep is intimated" I assume you believe an epic sweep was insufficient to the overall quality of the movie. By " - and yet." I assume you are reinforcing your belief that all three of these things, in addition to the previous concessions of the "Slightly longer version", are wholly insufficient to make this movie anything more than a disappointment to you (I assume [there's that word again] that a one star rating is a disappointment, unless it is something worse).

  • and yet...

No, I won't do that to you, I will give you a sentence to complete that thought...

  • and yet you don't bother to tell the reader what beats are hit, what complexities are introduced, and what sort of sweep is intimated...and most importantly, why all this falls short of your opinion of a good movie IN LIGHT OF ITS SUCCESSES. I get that you're conceding a lot about the movie, but it bothers me that you still put out:

"There is a story here about the road to faith, but the scope is far too broad for it to show properly, even as the perspective is far too narrow."


" - and yet."

It bothers me not because I don't like you or I think everything that has the word Catholic on it is holy writ and must nevereverevereverever be criticized...It's not perfect if it's of this world, and FGG certainly is...but I (stuffy and overly serious alert) find the (as aforesaid) general dismissive tone and apparent lack of interest in really informing the reader as to your reasons for disliking the movie appalling.

Number 10: You: I thought you said Number 9 was the conclusion!

Me: It was. This is a made-up conversation you and I are having on this webzone.


TomGMS June 19, 2012 @ 6:48 p.m.

Number 11: Why so serious?

Not you, me. It's an understandable question in light of all the everything I just wrote...

Why am I so serious about this movie? If I just said "I really liked it!" you would think I'm a crazy person. In fact you probably already do think I'm a crazy person (if you actually read this far, which I seriously doubt). But why am I so damn serious about this movie? I already conceded that I have no problem with people criticizing Catholic things...even though there are so few of them. I don't mind constructive criticism...when it is constructive. I just don't think your criticism is constructive. How often do we get a movie like this? A movie about Catholic people that actually portrays them the way we Catholics would WANT to see them portrayed, the ideal we always moan about when we see a movie mocking our appearance, moaning that we never see that ideal portrayed fairly, modestly, and accurately, and yet here we have it, and you write your little thing dissing the whole thing because of...flaws in scope and perspective? Come on.

It's not often we get something like this which so strongly, passionately, and effectively affirms our Catholic faith and our freedom to practice it in this world. I think the message is more than valuable, and I certainly think the message of the movie is bigger than the scope and perspective of a story. I've explained why I think the scope and perspective are not insufficient, and I also touched on the importance of the message in this day and age. The reason I am writing this is because I believe people SHOULD see this movie, not looking for scope and perspective, but looking for a message.

I asked somewhere along the line of this...thing...that I'm writing...for some reason...whether you were looking at this movie through the same lens you look at every other Hollywood movie, and I cautioned you not to...I think. I can't even remember what I've written, it's so long...****(FYI this is not a self censor, it's a post-script) But anyway: This movie is not a Hollywood movie BECAUSE of all the signs I have alluded to...the accurate, modest, fair portrayal of the Catholic lifestyle and of the sacraments and the positive portrayal of martyrdom which does not stray into religious fanaticism.


TomGMS June 19, 2012 @ 6:52 p.m.

For Greater Glory was never meant as that type of movie. Dean Wright, the visual effects director for the massively successful film adaptations of the second and third LotR books, the Two Towers and Return of the King, made his directorial debut with this movie. Is his inexperience to blame for your issues with the film? It's possible...but then again I don't agree that most of them are legitimate issues. Could it be that this film was intended for a Spanish audience with the Spanish language, and Garcia's apparent sleepy woodiness is erased if he is speaking Spanish? I can't say since I haven't seen the Spanish version of the movie… All I can say is, For Greater Glory is one of those movies whose message is so valuable and so worthy that it is simply not fair to exclude that message from the judgment of the film.

*Yes I am shamelessly stealing the enumerated review point shtick from redlettermedia's Plinkett reviews.

** It may be that the evil actions themselves and gleeful countenances of the evildoers were recorded, while the reasons for such things were not recorded. Nevertheless I still agree with that point.

*** I hesitate to criticize this thought too deeply, because I assume (being previously unfamiliar with the content of your writing) you are writing this review using the same perspective from which you review other Hollywood movies.

**** I'm 18 and it was really late when I was nearing the end.

If you've made it this far, I give you credit for suffering through what must have been sheer torture. I hope, though, that this gives you a chance to expand on your criticism and to better point out the inadequacies that you found in the movie. Thank you!


Matthew Lickona June 19, 2012 @ 11:28 p.m.

Hi Tom! Thanks for your thoughtful and civil reply! I promise to read and ruminate.


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