Robert Duvall is one of the most creative actors and directors we have in this world. The body of work he is creating for us is outstanding. He not only stars in The Apostle, he also wrote and directed it.
Euliss (Sonny) Dewey, played with foxy charm and volcanic energy by Duvall in his lovely, heartfelt film is a man of the cloth. But the cloth from which this Pentecostal preacher is cut may seem familiar at first, at least in movie terms. As a white preacher whose specialty is rousing black churchgoers to a holy fury, Sonny does look like something of a flimflam artist. And behind the kindly manner and beatific smile we know there is a man with serious marital troubles. Does the equally devout Jessie (Farrah Fawcett) want to leave Sonny because of his wicked ways? Is Sonny's overbearing godliness merely a cynical trick?
If this were Elmer Gantry, that might indeed be its message. But The Apostle is something unusual in cinematic terms. It's a film that can create a full, fiery, warts-and-all portrait of Sonny without reducing him to any kind of stereotype. The exhilarating, touching Sonny is very much his own man, and earnest about his mission. Even when fate deals him a career-ending crisis, Sonny rebounds by inventing new ways to do what he does best.
The actors are first rate, but much screen time in The Apostle is given to nonactors who give the film a sweetly believable tone and fill its churchgoing scenes with blazing heart and soul. A rare display of spiritual light on-screen. (The above is drawn from The New York Times Guide to the Best 1,000 Movies Ever Made.)
Other films by Duvall that you should consider watching include: Apocalypse Now, The Great Santini, Tender Mercies, Network, The Seven-Per-Cent Solution, The Conversation, The Godfather, and To Kill a Mockingbird.Back to the syllabus