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Capone's Art-House Round-Up with THE INTOUCHABLES from France and the epic FOR GREATER GLORY!!!

Hey, folks. Capone in Chicago here, with a few films that are making their way into art houses or coming out in limited release around America this week (maybe even taking up one whole screen at a multiplex near you). Do your part to support these films, or at least the good ones…

In case you were ever wondering how the French film world treats its physically challenged characters, you need look no further than The Intouchables, an unusually frank examination of the relationship between a wealthy man named Philippe (Francois Cluzet from TELL NO ONE and FRENCH KISS), who is made a quadriplegic in an accident, and the thuggish Driss (Omar Sy from MICMACS) from the projects who looks after him and in the process learns responsibility and what it is to care for someone. And if that sounds an overly saccharine way of telling this story, you've been watching too many Lifetime movies.

In fact, Driss' foul language and lack of filter between his brain and his mouth are a refreshing change for Philippe, who has had a string of caretakers who have treated him like something to be tip-toed around, something to pity. To him, that is living a life less than human. But Driss coaxes the aristocrat out of his self-imposed shell, even arranging dates for him and not being afraid to be adventurous with his boss when they're driving around together. Conversely, being a part of Philippe's world helps mellow Driss and stops him from going down a path that many of those he grew up with have already gone down. Yes, ladies and gentleman, these two men complete each other in a sense.

As sad as it sounds, we tend to dismiss films these days that feature any kind of disabled character in them, probably because we assume the filmmakers are going to soft-peddle the character in some way. But in THE INTOUCHABLES, there are very frank discussions about sex and the sometimes unsavory way that Philippe must be cared for. Very few aspects of the characters' lives are spoon-fed to us, and the resulting work is a fairly serviceable relationship story with large helpings of both drama and humor. The lead performances keep things from getting sappy, and that's the key to the enjoyability of the film.

Oh my. The one thing no critic in the world will accuse this epic telling of the real-life 1920s Cristero War of Mexico of being is subtle. FOR GREATER GLORY taught me the indelible lesson that you should never, ever try to separate the Mexican people from their religion, something the government attempted to do in 1926 and consequently set off a rebellion that had all eyes on Mexico. The film is front loaded with notable actors, all of whom do their best to cut through the paint-by-numbers script that seems as if it took an encyclopedia entry about the war and dumped it into a screenplay program. (Actually it was written by Michael Love.)

It's tough to dismiss a film featuring the likes of Andy Garcia, Eva Longoria, Oscar Isaac, Ruben Blades, Nestor Carbonell, Bruce McGill, Bruce Greenwood, Catalina Sandino Moreno and, god bless him, Peter O'Toole, who's still kicking with the best of them as a priest who is harassed (and eventually martyred) by the military for refusing to shut the doors of his church.

When it should be thinking big, FOR GREATER GLORY opts to think small. The relationship between Garcia's General Gorostieta and a boy who joins the rebellion a bit too young takes on a bizarre importance that runs the course of the film. I have no idea if the real General had such a boy-mascot, but the kid feels like a device rather than a real person. And as much as we are told that the rebellion is doing wonders to force the government to reconsider its stance of the church, we never really see this influence manifested in action or results; we're just told it's so, and I guess we believe it.

Without much thought, I could have cut 30 to 40 minutes from this indulgent, well-over-two-hour-long work from first-time director Dean Wright, a visual effects legend who has worked on everything from TITANIC to THE LORD OF THE RINGS to the NARNIA films. He certainly knows how to approximate the feel of a big movie even when nothing about FOR GREATER GLORY feels especially epic (outside of its running time). The film works best in its earliest moments, when we see the religious persecution or as Gorostieta is gathering and training his forces. During those sequences, this feels like a story that took place in the real, non-melodramatic world that makes up the second half of this movie.

I'll admit, I have a soft spot for Garcia and can pretty much watch him ham it up in anything. His commitment to playing the General somewhat realistically seems genuine, but every so often he gets that power-mad look in his eyes just before he launches into a speech that almost seems to be directed at the audience as much as the other folks in proximity to him. Despite its historical significance and noble intentions, I can't even come close to recommending this hot-air balloon of a movie. But for you Peter O'Toole completists, well, I feel sorry for you. Best of luck enduring FOR GREATER GLORY.

-- Steve Prokopy
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