The true(ish) story of the rebellion against Mexico’s anticlerical government in the 1920s, this drama styles itself as a cinematic epic, but its substance is as flimsy as a Jack Chick pamphlet. It’s got scope, or at least size, sprawling across nearly two and a half hours and following dozens of different characters, ranging from Andy Garcia’s retired general—a skeptic who ends up sporting a king-size cross—to Mauricio Kuri’s altar-boy-in-training, converted to the cause after Federales gun down his kindly priest.
The movie doesn’t shy away from the excesses committed by the Cristeros in defense of their faith, but they’re swamped by the atheist brutality of the government troops, who lustily gut priests and torture children. Visual-effects veteran Dean Wright, making his directing debut, stages the battles capably (if bloodlessly) but has little command over his actors, which makes them difficult to keep straight as he ping-pongs from one mustachioed freedom fighter to the next. The intervention of an American ambassador (Bruce Greenwood) more concerned with protecting oil interests than religious freedom provides obvious contemporary resonance, but when Garcia instructs his troops in guerrilla tactics, the reference points lean more toward the Revolutionary War’s heroic Minutemen than jihadists. Extremism in defense of liberty is no vice, but let’s not get carried away here.
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