The Apostle

Memphis Flyer

DIRECTED BY: Robert Duvall

REVIEWED: 02-23-98

Robert Duvall was recently nominated for an Oscar for his acting in The Apostle, a film he also wrote, directed, and produced. The nod is earned, for his Sonny, a.k.a. the Apostle E.F., is one of the best, if not the best, of the year.

Sonny is a deep-down, scream-it-to-the-world, God-loving preacher. For his efforts, he’s got a big church in his Texas town, a light-blue leisure suit, and a nice car with vanity plates. Yet his devotion to the Word hasn’t kept him from cheating on his wife and taking a drink or two. And despite being Pentecostal, Sonny experiences a bit of karma. While out on the road giving witness, he’s struck that he must return home to check on his wife Jessie (Farrah Fawcett). She tells him she’s got another man and plans to leave him and, further, she’s taken the church. Pride clouds Sonny’s judgment and he takes a baseball bat and gives Jessie’s lover a whack.

The crime drives Sonny out of Texas and into Louisiana, specifically the town of Bayou Boutté. He gives up his old identity and takes up a new, more devoted one as the Apostle E.F. In record time, the Apostle gathers new devotees in his new church he names the One Way Road to Heaven. He works swiftly, because he knows it’s just a matter of time before his past and the police catch up with him.

The art in Duvall’s performance lies in its subtlety. Visually, he’s the same man who can cheer a crowd into devotion as he was before he crossed the state line. Rather, the change is palpable – he’s no less devoted but truer. Being in complete control suits Duvall. The dialogue he wrote has a pleasant down-home quality and he peppers the film with small, quirky characters, among them June Carter Cash as his mother and Sister Jewell Jernigan as a devotee. The Apostle is both funny and sweet without being a slice of Southern oddity like Sling Blade (though Billy Bob Thornton does show up). It will make a believer out of you.

--Susan Ellis

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