The Apostle is a leisurely film. It is leisurely in the way that it brings us into the story. It is leisurely in the way that it conveys to us the story. And it is leisurely in the way that it introduces us to the main character, Euliss “Sonny” Dewey (Robert Duvall).
The Apostle is an independent film written by, directed by, and starring Robert Duvall. This film is Robert Duvall’s labor of love. The film opens with an unforgettable shot: a swinging door and two pairs of legs-one of a large African-American lady and the other of a young small white kid. This opening shot introduces us to Euliss Dewey and shows us how Euliss got introduced to God.
So far this sounds like a typical Hollywood movie. Will it take on the typical against-the-church route? Or will it take on the super-religious-lets-convert-the-audience route? Surprisingly, it takes neither and this is what makes The Apostle so enjoyable. The Apostle focuses on Duvall’s character. His Sonny is not a flat movie character, but is subtle and as human as the rest of us. Duvall’s script does not falter when portraying Sonny. Sonny always stays true to his humanity and never slips off into the realm of just another movie preacher.
One night while on the road, Sonny sits in his bed. He’s thinking things over and it dawns on him that his life is falling apart. Another thing dawns on him: his wife (Farrah Fawcett) is cheating on him. So, he picks up from the motel and drives back to town and finds his house empty. He then drives to the house of the new young preacher in his church and tosses a baseball through his window. Later the next day Sonny finds out that his wife wants a divorce and to top that off she has secretly and legally stolen his church from under him. In a fit of rage, and under the influence of alcohol, Sonny explodes and attacks his wife’s new boyfriend at a Little League game. After this incident Sonny is forced to flee his home state and change his name. He takes up the name “The Apostle E.F.”
E.F. travels for a while until he finds a small town and settles down to start his new Pentecostal ministry. E.F. needs some help though, and he finds it in a retired preacher (John Beasley). The church grows quickly because of E.F.’s energetic revivals. E.F. knows that he has done something awful and he knows that he’ll never escape from it. So, he is going to try as hard as he can to redeem himself and to help make people’s lives better. He, and the audience, knows that he can do the latter, but the former will eventually catch up with him.
Robert Duvall is one of the best actors alive and with The Apostle he shows that he can do more than just act. His performance in The Apostle is one of his best yet. But, it is his work behind the camera that is so amazing. His film relies not on camera tricks to bring us into the film; rather it uses the characters to bring us in. The film itself feels down to earth without that slick Hollywood feel to it. It’s not the type of film that makes you want to change yourself, like Good Will Hunting, but it makes you think of what you can change about yourself. Duvall’s Apostle E.F. is an unforgettable character.
Among the cast there are other performances worth mentioning. Farrah Fawcett gives a good performance as Apostle E.F.’s angel-on-the-outside-but-sinner-within wife. John Beasley gives a good performance as the subtle preacher Blackwell. Don’t blink or you’ll miss Billy Bob Thorton’s role as a racist ready to get rid of The Apostle E.F.’s church. And one of the most understated but memerable performances was by Walt Goggins as Sam, the quiet young man who unconditionally accepts The Apostle E.F. and helps him with the church.
The Apostle grows on you because of its leisurely pace. In the first half-hour things move a little slowly but stick with it; the reward is a great character study. What you don’t get with The Apostle is standard Hollywood fare. This film is not embarrassed to do what it likes when it likes. The twists and turns in the film show up unexpectedly and the film is not clichéd or predictable in any fashion. Don’t Miss The Apostle. When the credits start to roll and the screen fades to black at the end, don’t pick up and leave; stay for a minute or so and see what makes the character of Apostle E.F. so powerful and great.
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