The Apostle is Robert Duvall’s first attempt at writing and directing, and it shows. He gives a powerful performance with a memorable character, but perhaps a little distance from his work might have made a better movie.
Texas-born Euliss “Sonny” Dewey (Robert Duvall) is a natural born preacher. Ever since he was a little kid, he’s always talked with God, and he hasn’t stopped yet. He’s not an infallible man, however. On several occasions, he has strayed from Jessie (Farrah Fawcett), his wife. However, when he discovers that she is not only cheating on him with Horace (Todd Allen), the local youth minister, but that she’s plotting to steal his church, a fuse blows, and the next thing Sonny knows, he’s fleeing town one step ahead of the law.
Yet, Sonny wishes to repent (while staying out of jail). He changes his name to The Apostle E. F., and travels to a small Louisiana town. There, he begins to preach again, at first over the local radio station, and later at a church he founds with the help of Brother Blackwell (John Beasley).
And though he knows the law will someday find him, Sonny tries to live a normal life, converting several of the locals, and even wooing Toosie (Miranda Richardson), the radio station’s secretary.
You’ve got to have a stomach for religion to see The Apostle. The whole movie plays like one lengthy revival meeting. There are more “holy ghost”s and “hallelujah”s here than there are curse words in a random Tarantino flick. While the documentarian style with which the film is shot does add an interesting flavor not found in many films these days, there’s a lot which could be trimmed out to make a tighter story.
The glue which holds this hodgepodge movie together is Duvall’s riveting portrayal of the preacher struggling to redeem himself. Though his faith is never in doubt, his finely drawn human frailties make him a character to watch.
If only the remaining characters in the film were as fully fleshed out as Sonny. On the plus side, Duvall enlisted a hearty troupe of actors, who each give their best shot. From Fawcett and Richardson, to Billy Bob Thornton as a redneck who clashes with Sonny, they all give the illusion that their characters are more than mere shadows.
The story does have a few unexpected turns, but most of them are inconsequential, altering the main plot only in the slightest. In fact, remove the redundant scenes, and you probably could trim this 2 1/2 hour film down below 90 minutes.
Overall, I found The Apostle to be remarkably like Ulee’s Gold, in that a slow, plodding movie was made worthwhile primarily by the lead actor’s fascinating portrayal of a complex man. In short, a great performance in a so-so movie.