“The Apostle” (1997)
Running time: 134 minutes
Written and Directed by: Robert Duvall
Featuring: Robert Duvall, John Beasley, Farrah Fawcett, Walton Goggins, Billy Bob Thornton, June Carter Cash, Miranda Richardson and Billy Joe Shaver
Sonny: “I’m a genuine, Holy Ghost, Jesus-filled preachin’ machine this mornin’!”
Released recently on the Australasian blu-ray Imprint label is the Robert Duvall written and directed drama “The Apostle” (1997) that not only features an all star cast but is one of Duvall’s best movies, which is saying something considering his stellar career as well the legendary films he has appeared in. Like many actors of his generation Robert Duvall has always seemed to march to the beat of his own drum from the films he has appeared in, to where he lives, to his passions and the causes he is privately involved in so it is no wonder that in his debut as a director he not only took that job, but wrote, produced and acted in it, I am sure he was also completely involved in the editing. What he created was definitely a great film in “The Apostle” with not only a singular performance from him but also one of Farrah Fawcett’s best roles as well as some great casting that not only shows Duvall had an eye for up and coming talent in Walton Goggins but some dream roles for June Carter Cash and a great cameo from Billy Bob Thornton.
This is a film that although a fiction attempts to live in the real world with a main character who has no real hidden motives which is made clear throughout the narrative. Much of the narrative revolves around Sonny who is a Pentecostal Preacher who is seemingly having his life taken away from him, with the only true thing in his life the relationship that he has with God, we see him talking, pleading and telling at his God which may seem like a show in itself but it is all in earnest and as honest as he ever gets.
“The Apostle” concerns Euliss F. “Sonny” Dewey (Duvall) who is a charismatic Pentecostal preacher. His wife Jessie (Fawcett) has begun an adulterous relationship with a youth minister named Horace. She refuses Sonny’s desire to reconcile, although she assures him that she will not interfere with his right to see his children. She has also conspired to use their church’s bylaws to have him removed from power. Sonny asks God what to do but receives no answer. Much of the congregation sides with Jessie in this dispute. Sonny, however, refuses to start a new church, insisting that the one which forced him out was “his” church. From here the movie becomes a mix of a road movie as well as a story of rebirth which reveals Sonny as someone who is earnest to save souls and spread the word of his God, it introduces some very authentic characters who are all given their own motivations but who all feel very real indeed.
Like many actors who have worked with legendary directors it is no surprise that they want to turn their own hands to that art, not only to have greater control over a film but to also tell a story that they have been wanting to tell. The list is long with perhaps the earliest example being that of the great actor Charles Laughton who directed the now classic and influential “Night of the Hunter” (1955) through to the many great films of Clint Eastwood, so Robert Duvall was, at the time, the latest in that long tradition. Of course for all those incredible examples there are many who are just unable to make the grade. The great news was that for whatever reason, Duvall was able to write, produced star and direct a truly greta film in “The Apostle”. There is no doubt that he had a lot of time to hone the script while the film was turned down by almost everyone for years, this does show as the plot and narrative are as tight as one would want. Of course eventually being able to produce it independently meant he had control over the end product which means it is exactly what Duvall wanted. “The Apostle” is definitely not flashy at all but grounded in each scene with character being the central element that is given out of the time. However in saying that the themes of belief, loss, redemption and truth are also key to the film with all of those being explored by the central character of Sonny who is one of the more realistic Preacher archetypes seen, perhaps since Harry Powell all those decades ago.
As mentioned “The Apostle” is propelled forward by the central performance by Duvall as Sonny a man who thinks he has everything but looses almost all of it by the time the first act has gone by, with the rest of the film being an act of redemption. Duvall plays this part expertly having at this point in his career honed his skills as a storyteller through decades of work developing almost real and hyper real characters with many who are flawed or sometimes righteous and flawed. In fact this film could be seen as a metaphor for his own career or life, Duvall at the time of this movie seemed to be on a certain track, an ageing character actor who was going about his business appearing in large Hollywood movies, but from this film on he started to take a real interest in directing and would direct two more very interesting if not successful films. Duvall would also pick roles that would pair him with younger filmmakers which has in some ways meant he could weather his own popularity in big budget efforts as well as smaller movies. This has proven to be wise as out of his contemporaries he may be the only one still working who has no movies that he would be embarrassed by which is a feat indeed. Looking at his career he has never seemed to chase fame, glamour or money which is so evident in his oeuvre.
“The Apostle” is a truly great movie from an actor that puts it all onscreen leaving audiences with something truly special, it is in some ways a movie of its time but at the same time is timeless with a story many are able to identify with, as well as having some truly memorable performances by all involved. This is a must for any collection and should be seen in this form on bluray, Imprint have done it again.
• Audio commentary by director/writer/producer/star Robert Duvall
• NEW “WHAT YOU SEE IS WHAT WE GOT: INSIDE THE APOSTLE” – An all-new interview with actor John Beasley (2020) 11:48
• NEW “I’LL FLY AWAY: COMPOSING THE APOSTLE” – An all-new interview with composer David Mansfield (2020) 11:44
• NEW Mystery of Faith: The Flawed Hero of The Apostle : A Visual • Essay by Ian Mantgani (2020) 11:42
• “The Journey of the Apostle” featurette 27:14
• MCA Records Soundtrack Presentation featurette (8:49)
• Theatrical Trailers (2:18 / 1:00)