In 1926, the atheist President of Mexico Plutarco Elias Calles (Rubén Blades) decided to secularize the country by edict. He deported non-Mexican priests and prohibited the remaining priests from appearing outside of the churches in their cassocks. Rebels fought back, at first with peaceful protests and then with increasing force until it became an armed conflict known as the Cristero War or Christiada. This film, financed in part by the Catholic fraternal society The Knights of Columbus, is a faith-based and often heavy-handed retelling of the story, focusing on characters who have since been recognized by the church as martyrs and canonized.
Andy Garcia and Oscar Isaac bring some depth and dignity to a script that is sincere but clunky. Garcia plays Enrique Gorostieta Velarde, a non-believer married to a devout woman (Eva Longoria) and a former general now painfully under-employed as a manager at a soap factory. When the Cristeros offer him the job of commanding their troops, he accepts because he wants to do the work he was born for, because it will please his wife, and because, he discovers, he would like to believe in something. One of his biggest challenges is winning the respect of the Cristero’s legendary fighter, Victoriano Ramirez (Isaac), known as “El Catorce” because he defeated fourteen of the President’s army by himself. Rodriguez plays one of the women who played key roles in transporting guns and ammunition.
The battle scenes are impressively staged and there are some affecting moments, but it assumes a level of belief and commitment on the part of its audience that may not apply to those who are not familiar with Catholic teachings. Ultimately, it is closer to worship than story-telling, more likely to validate believers than to engage new hearts.
Parents should know that this film has extended battle violence with many characters and animals injured and killed, graphic and disturbing images, and a harrowing scene of a child who is tortured and killed.
Family discussion: How does the quote at the beginning of the movie relate to the story? How did participating in the fight change the general’s mind about God?
If you like this, try: “The Mission” and “Braveheart”