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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 Harvey Karten
No Rating Supplied

According to Robert Duvall, who turns in a tour de force performance as a dancing, shouting, hell-raising Pentecostal- type preacher, Hollywood is generally afraid of making movies with religious issues. When such a picture does get a released, the fundamentalist preacher fellas are either patronized or ridiculed. During the press conference following a screening at the New York Film Festival, he might have mentioned, as an example, Fredric March's depiction of the William Jennings Bryan character in "Inherit the Wind," based on the 1925 Scopes trial, in which the prosecuting attorney is reduced to babbling by the more rational Paul Muni, succumbing to a heart attack after the trial. In "The Apostle," by contrast, which is Robert Duvall's third directorial effort, the director plays the role of preacher with such flair, such authenticity, such downright dramatic impact, that we in the audience are tempted to rise out of our seats and join the congregation, whatever our religious convictions.

Though religion appears to be its center, this story of an individual who is a good person, however eccentric--who goes bad for a spell and later restores his dignity and generosity--is more about a man than about a creed. Seldom does a movie penetrate the soul of an individual in such depth, but Duvall does exactly that, spending a solid two and one-half hours in virtually every scene to gave his viewers a firm examination of his every dimension. He seems a bit different in each vignette, experiencing a lifetime of a episodes in a short period as he goes through his paces tending to a backwater parish in the Louisiana bayous (actually filmed in that state's Lafayette) which goes by the name Bayou Boutte. Eulis "Sonny" Dewey's whimsically erratic but essentially conscientious and generous nature comes through in the very opening scene in Texas where, driving with his mother (played by singing legend June Carter Cash) he comes upon a serious auto accident. Hopping down a hill, he runs into a mortally injured young man and, without regard to the victim's creed or wishes, asks him to accept Jesus, whom he will "soon meet." Back at the ranch, however, things are not going so well with his wife Jessie (Farrah Fawcett), who tires of his absences and has taken up with a young minister, Horace (Todd Allen). Begging her not to ask for a divorce, he gets drunk and, at a Little League game, clubs the boy friend fatally in the head with a baseball bat. Discarding his identity, he flees Texas for the Louisiana bayou where he becomes friendly with Rev. Blackwell (John Beasley), who left his congregation because of health problems, and talks him into helping re-create his church. Working as a mechanic in a garage owned by a radio announcer, he uses the free time he is granted to advertise his new church, and slowly builds up a sizable congregation of mostly black parishioners, who glory in the man's dancing, shouting, and all-around enthusiasm.

You're in for a surprise if you think that a man in his position leads a sedentary, relaxed life in a remote region, inhabited by good-natured but essentially poorly-educated people who take to gospel song and fire-and-brimstone preaching like a terrier to a buried bone. One day he raises a voluntary crew of children to clean, paint, and assemble a large sign for the old abandoned shack. At another time, he must fend off an attack by a racist provocateur (Billy Bob Thornton) who, furious at the idea of an integrated house of worship, is about to demolish the building with a bulldozer. He wins the hostile man over in a remarkable way. At another time he romances a southern belle, Toosie (Miranda Richardson), who is separated from her husband and fascinated by his company and distinct aura.

Duvall excels not only in the movie's principal role but as its director, building each scene skillfully on its preceding one while welding a group of ordinary Louisiana citizens with a cast of remarkable actors. Miranda Richardson has particular merit, knowing just how to play a fascinating "date," mixing a come-hither twinkle with a maybe-next-time prospect.

The picture is photographed in a straightforward way by cameraman Barry Markowitz, featuring a soundtrack of glorious gospel song, and allegedly has been pared down with the use of a computer in Mr. Duvall's Virginia farmhouse. The picture is too long and could stand a shave, particularly of Duvall's final sermon before his inevitable arrest for his crime of passion. Thirteen years in the making, this five million dollar production is an obvious showcase for Duvall, who will doubtless garner an Oscar nomination after the picture is released--for that purpose--in L.A. this December, to open nationally on January 30, 1988.

Copyright 1998 Harvey Karten

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