In a time of great religious tensions between East and West, and with what feels like a definite increase in religious-themed productions in cinemas, it only figures someone would try a sweeping historical drama before long. 2012's 'For Greater Glory', now retitled as 'Outlaws' for the UK release five years later, retells the story of the Cristeros, a group of Catholic Mexicans, and their struggle for religious freedom in the 1920s against an oppressive government.

'Outlaws' is pretty but dramatically vapid

Former VFX supervisor Dean Wright ('Lord Of The Rings') can be admired for bringing an obscure part of history to light, but 'Outlaws' suffers the common maladies of lesser period dramas: its narrative often shifts focus often from different characters involved in the war, thus leaving us without a proper protagonist as well as muddying what the film wants to say about the people involved.

Any grey area concerning people of peace taking up weapons is completely absent from a cartoonishly black and white drama, not helped by a lack of background information for newcomers. The film doesn't even have the decency to properly explain why the conflict began, other than some waffle about the government going after Catholic individuals because 'spirit of the revolution', as the almost Saturday-morning President Calles often says in the film. It doesn't work as an introduction to the audience, nor does it offer a realistic or subtle take for those familiar.

The incredibly hamfisted themes and saccharine treatment of historical events could be forgiven if the battles compensated, but they are frequently poorly shot with irritating 'shaky cam' that's too close to the action, especially during the climatic last stand at the end.

Wright should know how to film epic action, given his background, but his more verite style leaves what should be tense and exciting more lazy and incoherent. Even the lush, sweeping score by the now late master James Horner, while as good as you'd expect, is used more to smack the audience over the head with how they're supposed to feel, rather than enhance or compliment scenes.

It renders what should be powerful moments of sacrifice, torture and virtue (especially as one of them involves a child) as overblown, theatrical and insincere.

However, 'Outlaws' has some positives

The production values, especially for an independent foreign film, are top notch and recreate the period. In addition, we have a talented cast, including the likes of Oscar Isaac, Peter O'Toole and Andy Garcia, who delivers a solid and imposing turn as the ideologically conflicted Cristeros general; an atheist fighting for religious freedom.

I can even admire the timeliness of a religious film discussing the right to worship and believe whatever you want. There is a tale worth telling here, but it just needed a different team to pull it off: 'Outlaws' is far too preachy and obvious for its own good, and it leaves too much out for those unfamiliar to really learn about the conflict.