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Rated 3.01 stars
by 1531 people

ReelTalk Movie Reviews
by Betty Jo Tucker

What’s a preacher to do when his wife steals his congregation and falls in love with a younger minister? In The Apostle, Sonny Dewey, a charismatic preacher, makes deadly mistakes in dealing with this crisis. As played flamboyantly by Robert Duvall, Sonny explodes in violence, then tries to escape the consequences by assuming another identity.

Calling himself simply "The Apostle E. F.," Sonny continues to save souls by preaching on the radio and establishing a "One Way to Heaven" church. Of course, I realize this man should be punished for his crime, but I just couldn’t help sympathizing with Sonny. His passion, dedication, and human frailty really got to me.

Oscar-winner Duvall’s (Tender Mercies) bravura performance breaks through the stereotypes of ministers seen in so many feature films. Remember Rowan Atkinson’s tongued-tied behavior while conducting a ceremony in Four Weddings and a Funeral? And Burt Lancaster’s manipulative preaching in Elmer Gantry? In contrast, the preacher emerges not as an object of ridicule or as a con artist in The Apostle, but as a complex man whose strengths and weaknesses bring about his fall as well as his redemption.

Rousing scenes of Pentecostal religious gatherings add joyful excitement to this fine character-driven drama. And the supporting cast is outstanding, especially Farrah Fawcett (Charlie’s Angels) and Miranda Richardson (Kansas City) as Sonny’s troubled wife and later love interest, respectively. Richardson is completely convincing as a woman drawn to Sonny’s magnetic personality. Billy Bob Thornton (Sling Blade) oozes bigotry as a racist jerk, and country singer June Carter Cash excels as Sonny’s mother.

My only complaint: The Apostle suffers from poor editing, most notably in Sonny’s last session with his new congregation. This lengthy scene reminded me of a dance marathon that starts out vigorously, then ends in boredom and fatigue. Duvall, who also wrote and directed the film, should know better.

Still, The Apostle is a remarkable achievement by one of America’s foremost actors. Duvall invested not only his talent and time in this movie but also his own money. In addition to his Academy Award nomination for his performance as Sonny Dewey, he was named Best Actor of the year by the Los Angeles Film Critics Association and by the National Society of Film Critics.

Although The Apostle may not appeal to everyone, it impressed me as an insightful look at a part of Americana generally overlooked by mainstream filmmakers.

(Released by October Films and rated "PG-13" for thematic elements and a related scene of violence.)

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