A Pentecostal preacher (Duvall), upstairs in his mother's Texas house, rants and raves: Why did God create his present heartache? The preacher's adulterous wife is taking his church and job. A neighbor complains to the man's mother, "Someone is carrying on like a wild man"; she replies that her son has always talked to God, and she won't stop him. Duvall's characters are as complex and real as people in documentaries, and, as all great screenplays do, his offers more in each scene; his very subtle script has no cliches.
A confrontation between Sonny and his wife ends unexpectedly; one with a redneck racist (Thornton) also surprises us. Later, Sonny wants to date a local radio station receptionist; we wonder how she sees him, and how he'll make his wishes known without offending her - which she intuits. As played by Duvall and Richardson, the scene brilliantly reveals social and sexual strategy.
Hollywood preachers tend to be Elmer Gantry types, but not Sonny. He takes his intimate relationship with God and his work seriously. The movie opens with him at a car accident, asking a victim to accept Jesus, "who you're going to meet soon.' But Sonny's nonetheless a good man.
Driving home one night after a revival, having deduced his wife (Fawcett) is sleeping with the youth minister, Sonny finds her gone, and throws a baseball through the minister's window. His wife divorces him, and deprives him of his church and job. A drunken Sonny goes to a baseball game the minister is coaching, wallops him with a bat, and flees.
After spending the night in a bayou in a borrowed pup tent, he changes his name to "The Apostle E. F.," and rebuilds a tiny black rural church its retired minister gives him. Its mostly-black congregation grows after E.F.'s sermons are broadcast in town. He wants the church to work; he also wants redemption. Footage of its services, music, and preaching get us into the spirit; we understand the pastor's struggle for redemption after his angry crime.
"The Apostle' took a long time to be made. Duvall's associates who promised help didn't return his calls about it, nor did major studios, maybe because of its meaningful content. Not many people are gifted enough to write, direct, star in such a film, and even finance it, as Duvall did; even fewer have the courage to deal honestly with a complex spiritual subject.
Robert Duvall, Farah Fawcett, Billy Bob Thornton, Miranda Richardson
Robert Duvall; Pentacostal preacher on the lam in Texas
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