Epic Film Defends Religious Freedom
By Phil Boatwright

There was a time when religious beliefs were exalted in Hollywood. Well, at least religious themes were mined for gold. Indeed, Hollywood was truly a democratic industry when it came to finding subjects the public would embrace, even bringing stories about men and women of faith to the screen. And not everyone was in it for just the money – or the fame. Men like Cecil B. DeMille (The Ten Commandments, The Sign of the Cross, Samson and Delilah), Frank Capra (It’s A Wonderful Life), Leo McCarey (Going My Way, Bells of St. Mary’s), and others also found the medium a way of expressing their Christian values. Not a lot of that going on in Tinseltown these days, but occasionally a new release will explore more than the mental and physical aspects of the human condition. For Greater Glory is the latest to do so, harkening back to the days of El Cid and A Man For All Seasons. To be released June 1st, For Greater Glory is a compelling, thoughtful homage to religious freedom.

This action adventure, based on true events, has style and heart, and forthrightly depicts the need for faith. And what impressed me during a recent press junket, where I was able to interview the filmmakers, is that it is a production populated by men and women who believe that religious freedom needs to be defended.

“There are certain parallels to this movie and my own life. I come from a country [Cuba] where religious freedom for many years was completely taken away. So that parallel makes it easy for me to champion that cause.” notes Andy Garcia.

For Greater Glory is produced by Arc Entertainment and stars Andy Garcia (The Godfather 3, Ocean’s Eleven), Peter O’Toole (Lawrence of Arabia, Becket), Bruce Greenwood (Capote, Racing Stripes, Star Trek 2009), Oscar Isaac (The Nativity Story), Eva Longoria (Desperate Housewives), and Eduardo Verastegui (Bella). It chronicles the Cristero War (1926-1929), which was touched off by a rebellion against the Mexican government’s attempt to secularize the country. In the film an impassioned group of men and women make the decision to risk all for family, faith and the very future of their country. General Gorostieta (Andy Garcia) is a retired military man who hesitates in joining the cause, but eventually becomes the resistance’s most self-sacrificing leader, as he begins to see the cost of religious persecution on his countrymen.

“It [For Greater Glory] broke all records in Mexico. It’s the second highest grossing film there, after Titanic. And although it was made in Mexico and financed there, it’s a movie for the world. It needs to be told because it’s a beautiful story,” says actor Andy Garcia.

Of those interviewed, perhaps the most outspoken concerning faith was actor Eduardo Verastegui (the star of the inspiring movie Bella). Not only was he willing to speak of such things, he was downright verbose about the need for prayer and about studying history in order to prevent the repeating of mistakes of the past. Growing up in Mexico, he hadn’t known about the Cristero War, as it had been an embarrassment to the government and therefore not taught in school. But when he learned that more than 200,000 people died during that civil war, he felt a responsibility to make it known to the world.

"We need to learn from history so we don’t commit the same mistakes. And we need to show some of the heroes of Mexico who were not afraid to stand for something bigger than themselves – to the point that they gave their lives, becoming martyrs for what they believed.

For many years, my faith was not the center of my life…until a series of events happened while here in Los Angeles. I became aware that Latino men were not being seen in today’s films as noble, or as men of faith and integrity. I began to realize that I wasn’t a part of the solution as an actor. That’s when I made a promise. I would never again use my talents to do anything to harm my faith or my Latino culture. At the same time, I realized that I needed something bigger than myself to accomplish this. I needed help with the temptations found in my industry. How can I do this, knowing that I am a weak person? I understood that it was humanly impossible. So, at 28, I knew I needed something bigger than myself to fulfill this promise. That’s when I went back to my faith. And I started learning more about my faith. I began working on a spiritual discipline, a spiritual structure. Like anything else, if you don’t have a structure or an order, you can collapse very easily. My faith helped me to find true freedom in the middle of even the worst moments in my life. I learned how to be free and at peace.

At one point, I asked myself, ‘Are you willing to die for your faith?’ Of course, humanly, you say no. You see a knife and you know you’re going to get cut to pieces, then you want to run for the hills. But then these people we are portraying were receiving a supernatural strength. A power and grace that helped them in a way that’s not logical. Someone is torturing you and you’re loving them back; humanly that doesn’t make sense
”.

Hey, I said he was verbose. But what a pleasure to interview a person who makes his living in the motion picture industry yet isn’t guarded about his personal faith. What’s more, Mr. Verastegui’s words are backed up by his actions. His recent film work and several upcoming projects reveal his desire to aid as well as entertain. After further questions about the production and prayer, the handsome, intelligent actor concluded:

“This is the Schindler’s List of Mexico. We need to be reminded of what we are capable of, and of what happens to us when we don’t center God in our lives.”

Though this storyline centers around Catholicism and many of those involved in the movie are themselves Catholics, the film’s lessons can benefit those of any theological standing. And while it’s a true story, it’s also a parable that reminds viewers that Christians, like the Jewish people and so many others, have been persecuted for their faith throughout the centuries. It also sends a message that a right to worship can easily be threatened by a corrupted government.

A clean film, with no objectionable language or exploitive sexual scenes, it receives its R rating for violence. And while that violence is sometimes difficult to view, especially when seen inflicted upon a child, it is not gratuitous or exploitive, but rather depicted in order to remind us of what others have endured because they wouldn’t turn their backs on Christ.

"The character of Jose was a real life 14-year-old freedom fighter who was brutalized in a way that we only hint at in the film. We see the boy walking after he’s been tortured. It visually shows what he was willing to do for Christ. It is somewhat symbolic, representing his step of faith as he follows a path that Christ took.” added Director Dean Wright.

Along with being grand scale entertainment, the film also reminds us that a person’s life is fulfilled only when he is willing to stand for a greater glory.

For Greater Glory is rated R for one or two minor expletives, but I caught no harsh language; there are many battle scenes, with lots of people dying for a cause; while there are explosions, shootings, and hangings, it is not meant to be exploitive, but rather used to point out the evil man is capable of; some blood, but not excessive). Intended Audience: Teens and up.

Read Phil Boatwright's full review HERE.