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The Apostle

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All-Reviews.com Movie Review: The Apostle

Starring: Robert Duvall, Farah Fawcett
Director: Robert Duvall
Rated: PG-13
RunTime: 134 Minutes
Release Date: January 1998
Genres: Drama, Religion


*Also starring: Miranda Richardson, Todd Allen, John Beasley, June Carter Cash, Walt Goggins, Billy Joe Shaver, Billy Bob Thornton, Wilford Brimley



Review by Jerry Saravia
No Rating Supplied

Sonny Dewey is the most richly enigmatic character Robert Duvall has ever played - a Pentecostal preacher from Texas who sees himself as God's messenger, yet he's also a sinner, a man prone to violence. "The Apostle" is Duvall's third directorial effort, and it is an uncompromising effort but it is not as successful a portrait of a torn man as I had expected.

At the start of the film, we see Sonny stopping to see the severe wreckage from a bad car accident. He runs over to a badly wounded driver and tells him that the Lord will save him. Somebody better tell Sonny that the Lord should save him, too. Sonny's wife (Farrah Fawcett) is about to divorce him, although he doesn't want to be separated from his kids. Eventually, Sonny takes out his anger on his wife's lover, a pastor, whom he knocks out with a baseball bat at his kids' baseball game. Knowing that he may face prison, Sonny skips town and decides to rebaptize himself as E.F., the Apostle. In the process, he leaves behind his old mother (country singer June Carter Cash) and his two lovely children in Texas.

Sonny migrates to a chiefly black bayou town called Lafayette in Louisiana where, within minutes, he casts a spell on the entire population. A DJ already knows him as "The Apostle," and lets Sonny advertise on the local radio station about finding some followers, as long as he doesn't speak in tongues. A young mechanic lets Sonny stay at his house and gives him a sports car. Sonny eventually convinces a retired local minister (John Beasley) to rebuild a church, and persuades many black churchgoers to join his congregation by giving away food supplies and by chanting with great energy on the air waves. He's a man impossible to resist and to dislike - a man eager to please God and all who follow Him. A secretary (Miranda Richardson) is also struck by his charisma, and begins dating him.

Sonny's past, however, continues to intrude upon his escape. His mother is dying, and his wife is ready to send the police after him since the pastor he conked in the head is in a coma. But Sonny is not going to down without a fight - he's on God's side and always asks Him for advice.

The one question we're left with in "The Apostle" is just who is Sonny? As Kris Kristofferson once put it, he's a walking contradiction. Sonny loves God and seeks to carry out his Word, but he doesn't necessarily practice what he preaches. For starters, he's a man prone to violence considering he knocks out his wife's lover, and has a fist fight with a redneck racist (Billy Bob Thornton) at his new church. There are obviously demons that Sonny has to grapple with, but what are they? Where does his violent behavior stem from? I have known some ministers to do wild things and go to prison as punishment - they are only human, after all - but what kind of man is Sonny beyond his wild acts of faith and his sermons?

The problem lies not with Duvall's performance, but with the various plot holes in the story. For one, why is he thrown out of his congregation in Texas when everyone seems to love him? Did his wife actually run it? And why does his wife leave him? There is something to suggest that Sonny is a philanderer but writer-director Duvall never dwells into it, or Sonny's past.

"The Apostle" is an accomplished piece of filmmaking; it is well-acted and well-staged. The scenes in the churches where everyone preaches and sings to the Lord are dazzling and enticing to witness. An interesting sideline to the film is that most of the supporting players are actual churchgoers in Lafayette bringing a level of authenticity that Hollywood rarely reaches. Particularly compelling is Robert Duvall who brings a certain dignity and humanity that should not go unrewarded or unnoticed - he's always on the move, and always dancing and praising the Lord with vigor. Also worth mentioning is the ubiquitous Billy Bob Thornton as the redneck who has an incredible scene where he threatens to bulldoze Sonny's church and, right before our eyes, Sonny manages to convert him.

"The Apostle" is a fine film made in the same spirit and atmospheric look as Billy Bob Thornton's own directorial effort "Sling Blade," another tale set in the South. Both films succeed in documenting the people in the South without condescending them or presenting them as stereotypes. "The Apostle," however, is more likely to be remembered for Duvall's tour-de-force performance than anything else. Like "Kundun," another film about a spiritual leader, "The Apostle" leaves you with more questions than answers.

Copyright 1998 Jerry Saravia

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