This is another movie that falls into the "Overlooked Because I Never Heard of It" category. Not only that, but the historical background for the story it tells was unknown to me, too, which is sort of annoying for a history buff like me. So I learned something from it, as well as being entertained by a good, old-fashioned historical epic.
FOR GREATER GLORY is set in the late 1920s, when the Mexican government, acting on the Bolshevik leanings of its president, set out to eradicate the presence of the Catholic Church in Mexico. Bishops were deported, church services were prohibited, and the priests who weren't executed were turned into fugitives and outlaws. Not surprisingly, this led to a resistance movement and finally an outright rebellion by the Mexican people who wanted freedom to worship. That's the set-up, which as far as I can tell from doing a little research after we watched the movie, is pretty accurate historically.
For the most part, though, and despite its setting in the Twentieth Century, FOR GREATER GLORY plays like a Western, and a good one, at that, with plenty of gunfights, ambushes, cavalry battles, and train robberies. In one especially good scene, a vaquero named Victoriano who's a member of the resistance battles an entire army patrol by himself and manages to kill all fourteen of the soldiers, leading to him being known as El Catorce (The Fourteen). An actor named Oscar Isaac plays Victoriano and does a great job.
Andy Garcia is probably the biggest name in the cast and plays a retired general who winds up commanding the rebel army. He's excellent, as always. The acting is good all around, including an ancient Peter O'Toole as a priest, although the great Bruce McGill, my favorite contemporary character actor, is miscast as President Calvin Coolidge.
Mostly, though, we get lots of action, spectacular scenery, and stirring music. I couldn't help but think about what Sergio Leone would have done with this story, but Leone's gone so this version is what we have. It's a very good movie that doesn't quite achieve greatness because it seems to drag a little in places, but it's certainly well worth watching.