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July 16, 2013


The Apostle

by Franz Patrick

Apostle, The (1997)
★★ / ★★★★

Sonny (Robert Duvall) is a Pentecostal preacher who had recently caught his wife, Jessie (Farrah Fawcett), having an affair with Horace (Todd Allen), a youth minister. During a softball game, Sonny comes to take his children but Horace approaches Sonny to say he is sorry that Sonny had to find out about the adultery. Sonny, consumed with rage, takes a bat, swings it to Horace’s head, and the man is unconscious. The preacher runs away before the police arrives. Circumstances and kind strangers lead Sonny to Louisiana where he plans to start a new church.

I understand that “The Apostle,” written and directed by Robert Duvall, is supposed to be a story of a person seeking redemption from succumbing to rage and putting a man into a coma, but it ultimately feels like attending church. It is like enduring a punishment at times. There are far too many dispensable scenes where Sonny delivers very enthusiastic speeches about the word of God and how His word can ameliorate suffering and prejudices when one or two extended but powerful speeches is more than enough.

I wanted to know more about people who befriend Sonny in his time of need. Given that the film is a story of attaining redemption through learning to connect with others, emphasis should have been placed on the people who help him get there. For instance, there is Blackwell (John Beasley), a retired preacher, who takes Sonny to an abandoned building and helps him realize that his goals are closer than he thinks. Elmo (Rick Dial), a local radio station owner, gives Sonny a voice without having to show his face–critical because he is on the run from the cops. Finally, there is Toosie (Miranda Richardson), a secretary in the radio station, who serves as Sonny’s new love interest. She is a symbol of the fact that Sonny’s heartache and anger toward his wife can heal over time and with the right mindset.

It is most disappointing that the screenplay does not do much with the three supporting characters. Not enough time is spent on each of them because speeches take precedence over meaningful character development. When the camera is on them, they smile and deliver knowing or caring glances. They do not feel like real people. Sure, they function as agents that will inspire a change in Sonny but they do not have to be perfect. I wanted to know about their flaws and why they are drawn to helping a complete stranger, reasons that go beyond his title and piety.

Duvall’s electric performance keeps the movie somewhat afloat. There is a lot of yelling inside the church, but what I found most captivating are of his character’s quieter moments. I loved the first scene when he and his mother (June Carter Cash) decide to stop their car after seeing a wreckage in the middle of the road. Sonny steps out of the vehicle, looks for the victims of the car crash, and provides comfort and a prayer for the young man who is minutes away from death. The scene shows that even though Sonny is far from perfect, he is capable of a lot of goodness.

“The Apostle” only works as a showcase for Duvall’s sublime acting. However, as a movie that supposedly uses paradoxes to unearth or unveil our humanity through our good and bad actions as individuals as well as our ability to relate and connect with others, it lacks genuine insight. It is neither entertaining nor particularly moving.

5 Comments Post a comment
  1. GaryLee828
    Jul 16 2013

    I thought this movie was pretty good, but I can see how some may find it boring at times b/c it is rather slow in parts.

    • Jul 16 2013

      What about it did you think was good? I liked its pacing enough but its treatment of the supporting characters feels so standard.

  2. GaryLee828
    Jul 17 2013

    I’m a Christian, and so I’m always interested in well-made films about faith, and struggle, etc. Most christian films that are made don’t have strong acting, writing, and directing, and feel cliched and recycled – and so when a film like “The Apostle” comes out that has such a strong Hollywood talent like Duvall, then it’s a breath of fresh air on the genre.

    Yes, he did get redundant at times with his speeches and sermons, but the reason he preaches so often is b/c he’s not only preaching to those within earshot, but also to himself, and for him to stay focused and strong, and overcome whatever doubts he may be having within himself at the time.

    I don’t like hardly any of Tyler Perry’s stuff that I’ve seen, and really don’t like his TV shows – and the majority of christian films I’ve come across feel generic, sappy, and preachy and don’t seem to authenticate real life – but “The Apostle” did. It wasn’t a perfect film and it could have focused more on the supporting characters as you pointed out, and that would have been fine, but the focus of this one was about Sonny, and his struggle.

    Another christian film very well-made was “Machine Gun Preacher” with Gerard Butler and Michael Shannon. It’s based on a true story about a criminal (Sam Childers played by Gerard Butler) who becomes a Christian shortly following his release out of prison, and then goes on a mission trip to the Sudan in Africa where the natives are attacked by rebels, and he helps them defend themselves.

    Michael Shannon plays a supporting character who was a criminal friend of Sam, and he does an exceptional job, as always; he has one scene in particular that I felt was especially moving, and really displays the essence of what Christianity is intended to be about.

    Machine Gun Preacher is on netflix instant if you want to check it out. I think you’d like it. It’s a really powerful movie.

    • Jul 24 2013

      “Yes, he did get redundant at times with his speeches and sermons, but the reason he preaches so often is b/c he’s not only preaching to those within earshot, but also to himself, and for him to stay focused and strong, and overcome whatever doubts he may be having within himself at the time.”

      I never really thought about it that way. I guess it’s because every time Sonny spoke, I tend to focus so much on the content of what he is saying, like the details of it, and I neglect to take a look at the big pictures at times.

      Thanks for sharing about your faith. I come from a Catholic family, raised as one, but eventually I chose not to subscribe to any religion. I consider myself to be open-minded and I do like watching movies that feature characters in which faith is important to them. To me, those movies are interesting not because of the religion but how a follower chooses to define and live by it. I’ll add “Machine Gun Preacher” to my queue.

      The most recent movie about faith that I thought was excellent was “Higher Ground.”

      • GaryLee828
        Jul 24 2013

        I think the important thing is to have relationship with our Creator, and the more we do that the more we learn about ourselves and who we are and our uniqueness, etc.


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