By Mark Saldana

Rating: 2 (Out of 4 Stars)

This movie really has a fascinating true story which inspires it; however, writer Michael Love and director Dean Wright chose a slightly insulting way of telling it.  They portray the characters rather stereotypically and embrace the clichés that often come with movies based on historical wars.  I also know that filmmakers wish to reach broader audiences by writing dialogue in English, but it still irritates me that the characters in this movie speak with a wide variety of bad accents.  The movie also runs on way too long with too many slow breaks in the story.  So sadly, what could have been an incredible and inspirational film turns into another casualty of clichés. 

In the late 1920s, a war breaks out inMexicobetween the Cristeros and the Mexican government.  The government has outlawed religion throughout the nation and enforces this order with an iron fist.  The Cristeros consists of a band of rebels fighting for their religious freedom.  Ironically, the movement enlists the aid of decorated war veteran and atheist Enrique Gorostieta Velarde (Andy Garcia) to lead their soldiers against the Mexican forces.  They also hire the infamous mercenary Victoriano “El Catorce” Ramirez (Oscar Isaac) to help defend the Catholic priests and lay people targeted by Mexican soldiers.

 Like I previously stated, the history behind this film truly is fascinating.  Despite, the issues I have with the writing, directing, and acting, the movie still held my attention as I wanted to learn more about this war.  It truly is a dark era in Mexican history and the valiant efforts of the Cristeros deserve a much better portrayal than this one.  I also blame some of the casting choices for some of the dissatisfaction I have.

 Andy Garcia, whom I have lauded in the past just seems out of place and not credible as a Mexican officer.  I can’t really place his accent either.  It doesn’t sound Mexican at all.  The man has charisma which keeps his performance from approaching laughably bad territory, but he just doesn’t quite pull off this role for my money.  Oscar Isaac credibly portrays the hardened and sometimes ruthless Ramirez, but again, his accent feels so affected and sometimes over-the-top.  Ruben Blades portrays Mexican President Plutarco Elias Calles and feels like an anachronism. The way he speaks with an almost street-wise bravado doesn’t really fit with the era of the film.  The movie also includes performances by Bruce Greenwood (American Ambassador Morrow), Peter O’Toole (Father Christopher), Bruce McGill (President Calvin Coolidge) and Catalina Sandino Moreno (Adriana) who all provide adequate performances, but are underutilized.

 I can only recommend this movie as a rental for people unfamiliar with the history of this war.  As I knew little about it, I was able to somewhat get into this movie, but got annoyed and frustrated with the writing, language, and acting issues.  For people well versed in Mexican history, it may be best to skip this one.  I’d like to see another attempt at this story somewhere down the line.  Perhaps, a film in Spanish by writer/director Alejandro Gonzalez-Inarritu is in order. I’d cast Javier Bardem as Velarde and Gael Garcia Bernal as Ramirez.  I’d love to see that version.


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