APOSTLE, THE(director/writer: Robert Duvall; cinematographer: Barry Markowitz; editor: Steve Mack; cast: Robert Duvall (Eulis “Sonny” Dewey/The Apostle E.F.), Miranda Richardson (Tootsie), Farrah Fawcett (Jessie Dewey), John Beasley (Brother Blackwell), Walter Goggins (Sam), Rick Dial (Elmo), Billy Joe Shaver (Joe), Billy Bob Thornton (Troublemaker), June Carter Cash (Mrs. Dewey Sr.), Todd Allen (Horace); Runtime: 134; October Films; 1997)

“To watch a movie which almost imitates a church service in length and purpose, is not my idea of entertainment.”

Reviewed by Dennis Schwartz

This is Duvall’s movie through and through, the one he had to make, the one that crawled in his blood, the one movie that he prepared his entire life for. It’s a role that fits him to a tee. He did everything in this picture, including back it with his own money. I’m not partial to Pentecostal preachers and their heavy-handed, pushy methods of laying on their self-righteous trip to others. To watch a movie which almost imitates a church service in length and purpose, is not my idea of entertainment. But what this film does very well is examine the preacher’s personal life, and what affect religion has on its followers. In this case, it was mostly poor black southerners.

Duvall is Sonny, the apostle. He is a flawed character, who got the calling to preach when he was 12 and has been doing the Lord’s work ever since (oh my…!). He is basically a good-hearted guy, with a bit of a temper and a strong belief that God communicates with him. If we didn’t live in a society where so many folks think like him and arrogantly take the letter of the Bible as gospel, then he would be considered a certifiable crackpot. Sonny has the ability to get hot and pick up a baseball bat and bang it against the head of the guy who stole his wife (Farrah) and kids. As a result of this incident, he has to flee Texas. In any case Farrah has grown tired of his traveling act, always on the road preaching and womanizing, and had lost her love for him.

What Duvall has — is zeal. He is a non-stop talker, always railing on about Jesus and Satan, quoting scriptures, and offering up the whole evangelical bag of tricks. That he is good at it, is not the question. That he is annoying except to those who need to be with someone like him, who are lost souls themselves, is another thing. All he asks of them is to believe in a personal God, Jesus. His mind-set is programed, never getting off the Jesus wavelength. This guy would be a real bore at a party, or a hellish parent to a child who is a free thinker.

Sonny lands on his feet in Bayou country, in a small Louisiana town, where he talks a respected black pastor (Beasely) into backing him in getting a small church. He wins the pastor over with his ability to preach. He is now going under the name E.F., hiding his identity from the police who are looking for him. He stirs up a little romance with a radio station receptionist (Miranda). These non-evangelical moments of him on a date with her, talking real talk, were gems. These scenes made the film a more human experience than hearing all that preaching. It was fun to watch Duvall try to handle himself with the lady who was considerably younger than his late 60ish age, and who was somewhat stand-offish of him; yet, at the same time, was fascinated by him. It was revealing that he couldn’t talk about himself introspectively to her, everything revolved around his God, it was as if he was not totally there and was devoid of a magnetic personality when offstage. It was also fun to watch Duvall smile because as good an actor as he is and he is one of the good ones, nevertheless his friendly smile always has a trace of cruelty around the edges. It seems he can only play parts where he is all wired up, frenetically moving in every scene.

Duvall has created a work that tries to be more than entertaining, reaching to be a more artistic film. But the subject matter bored me. What excited me, is that I believe there was a certain truth to The Apostle that can’t be denied. Duvall has accomplished a virtuoso performance, supported by some excellent actors in supporting roles. It is the conviction for their parts shown by the non-professional actors that give this film the crisp flavor it was looking for, that makes it more tasty than it should be.


Dennis Schwartz: “Ozus’ World Movie Reviews”