This is a man of wild passions, a sermonizer ready to use his fists to defend his beliefs, or a baseball bat to erase the man who has won his wife and children away from him.

THE APOSTLE

A Illusion review by Joan Ellis.


"The Apostle" is the roof-raising result of Robert Duvall's 13-year effort to capture the fire of an evangelist. He has written, directed, produced, and stars as The Apostle, a.k.a. Euliss (Sonny) Dewey, Pentecostal preacher on the lam for a criminal act. The tub-thumping Sonny is an original creation. It doesn't matter where he is; he'll work equally hard to convert one person or a throng.

This is a man of wild passions, a sermonizer ready to use his fists to defend his beliefs, or a baseball bat to erase the man who has won his wife and children away from him. And yet, each time we suspect fraud, he surprises us. The man's religious fervor for his God and his people may be genuine, but zealotry is his flaw.

Sonny barely draws breath for well over two hours. Carrying on an uninterrupted dialogue with God and his parishioners, he shouts himself into a frenzy, makes a legion of friends, and builds a church for a black community in a remote Louisiana town called Bayou Boutte.

After baptizing himself as an Apostle of the Lord, Sonny teams up with Brother Blackwell (John Beasley), a retired pastor who cannot quite believe what he sees. The canny Brother Blackwell has reason to be skeptical as well as reason to accept help, in his twilight years, from this firebrand who is offering to rebuild the community church.

Picking up his growing membership in a bright red bus, Sonny carries on a one-way conversation with God on the way to church, in church, in his head, and over radio station KBBN. His fight with a belligerent stranger secures his hold on his earthly domain. Since every good preacher needs a little something beyond devotion, he also undertakes the seduction of Toosie (Miranda Richardson), the front-office gal at the radio station.

Robert Duvall never lets Sonny's energy flag for a second. Handing us a clue to his sincerity, he dances an involuntary, joyous jig whenever he's pleased with himself. Whether he is converting a racist or whipping up the congregation, he howls his beliefs in an endless repetition that becomes irresistible to anyone within range. The question of whether his presence has enriched the lives of his flock remains tantalizingly open until the touching fade-out.

In addition to his own astonishing performance, Mr. Duvall had the uncommon good sense to cast a great many nonactors, who give the film the real feel of a small Louisiana town. He then coaxed true performances from Farrah Fawcett, John Beasley, Billy Bob Thornton, and June Carter Cash. Miranda Richardson is especially fine as Toosie, the proper, lonely woman warming to the preposterous man who presents himself at her door. It is a measure of Duvall's success that there is no hint of caricature or condescension in this story of an evangelist preaching passionately for his own redemption. It's quite a show for a man trying to hide from the law.


Film Critic : JOAN ELLIS
Word Count : 497
Studio : October Films
Rating : NR
Running Time: 2h28m


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