[Screen It]


(1997) (Robert Duvall, Farrah Fawcett) (PG-13)

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Drama: A wayward evangelist reinvents himself in a small southern town after losing both his church and family to his disgruntled wife.
Eulis "Sonny" Dewey (ROBERT DUVALL) is a passionate Texas Pentecostal preacher with a seemingly good life. Married with a beautiful wife, Jessie (FARRAH FAWCETT), two well- behaved children, and a faithful congregation, Sonny thinks his life's been blessed. Things change, however, when he learns that Jessie's having an affair with Horace (TODD ALLEN), a fellow preacher, and that she's wrested control of the church away from him.

After a violent encounter with Horace that puts the man in the hospital, Sonny goes on the run. Arriving in Bayou Boutte, LA, he reinvents himself as the Apostle E.F., and quickly sets out to start another church. He immediately befriends Reverend Blackwell (JOHN BEASLEY), a retired preacher, and Elmo (RICK DIAL), the local radio station owner who allows E.F. to broadcast his sermons as well as news that he's reopening Blackwell's church. Other new friends include Sam (WALTON GOGGINS) a young mechanic who shares his home with E.F., and Toosie (MIRANDA RICHARDSON) a woman who works in the radio station and draws the preacher's romantic affections.

A few locals, including one redneck (BILLY BOB THORTON), however, aren't happy with E.F.'s multiracial congregation at his "One Way Road to Heaven" church. For the most part, though, the church grows along with E.F.'s rekindled passion. Yet even with his newfound success, he can't forget his past and occasionally calls Joe (BILLY JOE SHAVER), an old friend to see how his own elderly mother (JUNE CARTER CASH) is doing. Soon that past, and his actions in it, come back to haunt him and he must confront those problems.

It's not very likely that many kids will want to see this film.
For thematic elements and a related scene of violence.
  • ROBERT DUVALL plays a passionate preacher whose faults (violent tendencies, self-admitted womanizing, etc...) undermine what he preaches.
  • FARRAH FAWCETT plays Sonny's wife who not only has an affair, but also wrests control of his church from him.
  • BILLY BOB THORTON plays a local redneck whose racist beliefs lead him into violent confrontations with the preacher.


    OUR TAKE: 4 out of 10
    Portraying religion is something Hollywood's always had a difficult time doing. While many films take a humorous slant toward depicting the subject, others often generate a ton of controversy (such as "The Last Temptation of Christ"). Additionally, when dealing with devoted preachers, and particularly the evangelists, film makers often run the fine line of mocking those they're presenting. Sometimes the movie's there just to do that -- as in "Leap of Faith" (the Steve Martin movie where he's an obvious fraud looking to make money) -- but other times the act is unintentional.

    "The Apostle" is one of those films that runs right along that fine line and occasionally seems to cross back and forth over it. In hindsight, however, it ultimately proves to show religion in a positive light despite the flawed title character. And who better to play such a character than Robert Duvall? A four-time Oscar nominee (with one victory for "Tender Mercies"), Duvall has a career of sixty plus films where he's created unique, but often troubled men.

    Here he brings an unbridled passion to Sonny, and he's quite believable in the role. Of course being the writer, director, and producer of the movie certainly gives him a vested interest in doing the character right, and consequently he creates one that pops off the screen and seemingly falls right into your lap. While he's certainly not an enjoyable character to spend several hours with, he's always mesmerizing to watch and might just earn Duvall another nomination.

    Duvall, as a third-time director, lovingly lingers on long sequences where Sonny, or his later incarnation, E.F. goes through his prancing and dancing delivery. A little bit of this goes a long way, and unfortunately those scenes recur too often and carry on for too long once they've begun. What I couldn't figure out was whether those scenes were there to cover for the lack of a substantial plot (ie. To eat up time), or whether since Duvall was so immersed in this project (and wearing all of those different "hats"), that he couldn't see the forest for the trees. The moments where Sonny's preaching are done so well that you feel like you're sitting right there in an evangelical church, but that by itself in no ways makes for great drama. Thus, Duvall had to throw in some conflict (him attacking his wife's lover) to keep the story moving forward.

    Even so, the whole plot element of Sonny going on the run doesn't quite ring true. While it works dramatically in that it allows Sonny to reinvent himself, there's no solid enough reason that would compel him to flee. At the time, the man he's struck hasn't died, and by leaving he abandons his ailing mother and leaves his two young kids with a wife who's just ripped his world apart. That does create some dramatic tension for his character, but it seems that he too easily leaves. Of course that might be intentional where Duvall has created a character who's so flawed that he'd leave everything, but in any case it seems a bit unbelievable.

    The rest of the plot is rather straightforward and without surprises. There's never any doubt that Sonny's past will come back to haunt him, but with blinders on he never sees it coming (had he seemed more worried that may have given the film a bit more dramatic flair). Still, there are some decent moments, including one where Sonny must talk a redneck (Billy Bob Thorton in full southern glee) from bulldozing the church and the congregation. That and an earlier confrontation with him are clearly the stand out scenes and are quite mesmerizing.

    Beyond Thorton, the supporting cast is adequate but not outstanding. Fawcett perfectly fits into her role as the somewhat flighty wife (I'm not sure if that's acting, though), and John Beasley and Todd Allen deliver decent supporting performances. Nevertheless, this film's really just a character study about Sonny/E.F., and we get huge doses of him. Duvall also does a decent job as he brings a quiet dignity to the character that contrasts with the outgoing showman persona seen "on stage."

    Unfortunately, great performances alone don't, and can't, make a great movie. While Duvall's take on the troubled evangelist is quite compelling, too much time is spent focusing on him preaching when some more attention should have gone to build up the plot. At nearly two and a half hours, there's definitely room for more story, but instead we just get more charged up, but ultimately stationary sermons. While Duvall will earn many critical accolades and nominations for his role, this film certainly won't draw mainstream audiences, and for those who do see it, it's doubtful they'll want to take it in again. Instead they'll just head off to their local church to get the real thing. We give "The Apostle" a 4 out of 10.

    Beyond some mild language and a brief, violent scene, this film is rather void of major objectionable material. While some viewers may find the portrayal of evangelists and their audiences as in poor taste, Duvall as writer, director, and actor lovingly sticks with this man and shows that he's an okay guy despite his flaws. That, a wife who's having an affair, and a racist troublemaker top the worst of the material. Most of the other categories have little or no objectionable elements. It's doubtful many kids will want to see this film, but if you find it intriguing, you may want to read through the material before seeing the film.

  • Sonny drinks from a flask (before hitting Horace with a baseball bat).
  • A man in a car wreck has some blood on his neck and a little from his nose. The woman with him has slightly bloody knuckles.
  • Some viewers may see the portrayal of the evangelists and their audiences as being in poor taste (ie. One scene has those in a parish raising their fists in near Nazi-like unison as they shout "Jesus").
  • Likewise, Duvall's portrayal of his character as severely flawed, prone to violence and a self- admitted womanizer may rub some viewers the wrong way.
  • Some may see Sonny's efforts to save the soul of a man who's been in a car wreck, but not the man's life, as having both.
  • Jessie and another preacher are having an affair although she's married to Sonny.
  • Jessie wrests control of Sonny's church from him.
  • Sonny hits Horace with a baseball bat, and then goes on the run from the police.
  • A troublemaker arrives who's not only a racist, but also threatens to bulldoze E.F.'s church.
  • E.F. has two run-ins with a racist troublemaker. One leads to a fight where E.F. beats up the man, and the other is where he must persuade him not to bulldoze the church.
  • Handgun: Put by Sonny into his belt when he goes looking for Jessie knowing that she's having an affair. It isn't used.
  • Rifle: Held by a man who's letting Sonny camp in his backyard, but it's never used.
  • Shotguns: Held by police officers when E.F.'s arrested.
  • Phrase: "Nigger" (said by a racist troublemaker).
  • Sonny ditches his car and wallet into a pond to destroy all evidence of himself.
  • None.
  • None.
  • None.
  • 3 "asses" (1 using "hole"), 3 hells, and 1 use each of "Oh my Lord" and "By God" (said outside of a religious setting) as exclamations.
  • We see Jessie in bed with Horace, but they're only sleeping (although they're having an affair).
  • None.
  • Sonny and Jessie's marriage isn't good. She's having an affair and later wants a divorce. Although young kids are involved, there's not much focus on how this affects them.
  • Sonny's mother is old and ailing and he worries about her health.
  • Evangelical preachers.
  • The fact that someone can be flawed and still have strong religious convictions.
  • Conversely, people who use religion as an "out" for their behavior.
  • Sonny throws a baseball through the window where Jessie is sleeping with Horace (with whom she's having an affair).
  • Sonny hits Horace with a baseball bat (and he later dies days later) after he gets in the way at a little league game where Sonny's trying to gather up his family.
  • E.F. gets into a fight with a racist troublemaker and punches the man many times.

  • Reviewed December 8, 1997

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