The Apostle

1997, Movie, PG-13, 148 mins


Southern Gothic, minus the delicious sleaze: That's the best way to characterize this leisurely tale of faith, human frailty and second chances, written, directed, produced by and starring veteran character actor Robert Duvall. Texas-based Pentecostal preacher Euliss "Sonny" Dewey (Duvall), who's been spreading God's word since a near-death experience as an adolescent, is in the midst of a crisis. His wife (Farrah Fawcett) wants a divorce -- she's taken up with younger man Horace (Todd Allen), also a minister -- and together they've appropriated Sonny's congregation. In a moment of distinctly un-Christian rage, Sonny slugs Horace with a baseball bat, then takes to the road in disgrace. He changes his name, calling himself the Apostle E.F., and devotes himself to establishing a new congregation in the largely African-American town of Bayou Boutte. This rambling exercise in local color has been a pet project of Duvall's for more than a decade, and it's to his credit that he managed to get such a low-concept picture produced. It's also to his credit that he resists the temptation to take easy potshots at religion, particularly of the revivalist variety: It's Sonny who's flawed, not his faith. Duvall's performance as the charismatic preacher man is one of the movie's world-class assets, as is Fawcett's brittle turn as his wife: It's a jolting reminder you that she was once able to shed the Charlie's Angels bimbo persona for serious, critically acclaimed roles. Country-music legend June Carter Cash lends quiet dignity to the role of Sonny's pious mother, and Billy Bob Thornton has a showy turn as a redneck bigot who hears the word of the Lord. leave a comment --Maitland McDonagh

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