Saturday, March 21, 2015

#1,678. The Apostle (1997)

Directed By: Robert Duvall

Starring: Robert Duvall, Todd Allen, Paul Bagget

Tag line: "Lust, Obsession, Revenge... Redemption"

Trivia: After seeing the movie, Marlon Brando wrote Robert Duvall a heartfelt letter congratulating him on making such a moving film

The Apostle was a labor of love for Robert Duvall, who, aside writing and directing, played the lead character, a Texas preacher who goes looking for salvation in a small Louisiana town.

E.F. “Sonny” Dewey (Duvall) is a Pentecostal preacher who, ever since childhood, has devoted his life to spreading the word of God. Things take an unexpected turn for him, however, when he learns his wife Jessie (Farrah Fawcett) has been having an affair with Horace (Todd Allen), a youth minister. What’s more, she’s attempting to force him out of the Texas church he himself founded. Angry and humiliated, Sonny prays to God for help, but takes matters into his own hands when, at his son’s little league game, he attacks Horace, putting the young man in a coma.

Now on the run, Sonny makes his way to Louisiana, where he meets up with retired minister C. Charles Blackwell (John Beasley), and, having re-baptized himself as God’s new apostle, decides to form a church in the small Bayou town. Working two jobs, he saves enough money to renovate Minister Blackwell’s former church, then takes to the airwaves, reaching out to the audience of a local D.J. (Rick Dial) in an effort to gain new parishioners. Along the way, Sonny (calling himself “E.F.”) even finds time to date Toosie (Miranda Richardson), a receptionist working at the radio station. Thanks to his hard work and determination, the church eventually draws a large crowd, but despite his newfound success, Sonny knows that, sooner or later, his past is going to catch up with him, and he’ll have to pay for the wrongs he’s done.

Duvall delivers one of the best performances of his career in The Apostle, bringing plenty of charisma to the part of Sonny, a man whose faith is his strongest asset. In the film’s opening scene, Sonny and his mother (June Carter Cash) are out driving when they happen upon a recent accident. Grabbing his bible, Sonny rushes over to one of the vehicles and begins preaching to its critically injured driver, doing what he can to comfort the man with the word of God. That said, The Apostle doesn’t make Sonny out to be a saint (he alludes to having committed adultery during his marriage, and was clearly drunk when he attacked Horace), nor does it demonize his wife Jessie (her fear of Sonny leads us to believe she’s experienced his violent temper before). Instead, it presents its lead as he is, taking the time up-front to show us Sonny’s strengths and weaknesses, then invites us to tag along on his journey of redemption.

The supporting cast of The Apostle is equally good, with impressive turns from Fawcett, Beasley, Richardson, and, in a small role, Billy Bob Thornton (his two scenes are arguably the film’s most memorable). But it’s Robert Duvall who gives the movie its heart, bringing to life a man whose love of God is genuine (a refreshing change from many Hollywood productions, which depict preachers such as Sonny as nothing more than hypocrites), and whose desire to repent unites an entire community. In Duvall’s capable hands, The Apostle tells a story of faith so powerful that it could move an atheist to tears.

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