THE APOSTLE shouts creed, conviction and credit like the Devil was coming to breakfast, as a passion project for its progenitor and star, Robert Duvall. He spent years shopping it to studios without success before finally raising the $5,000,000—much of that his own—to co-produce this 1997 drama, then directing himself in that which he’d written. Can we get an “Amen”?
Verily, over 134 minutes you suffer plenty of “Amens” and enough Holy-roller “praise-Jesus” spouts to send a gator paddling to Cuba. Brother Bob’s tithe to the vanity vault ends up inhabiting the likes of Kevin Spacey’s “I-am-Bobby Darin” sermon Beyond The Sea and Roberto Benigni’s nose-picked Pinocchio.
“I may be on the devil’s hit-list, but I’m on God’s mailing list.”
Jabbering Jehoshaphat ’til the cubits come home, ‘Sonny Dewey’ (Duvall) is a Hellfire Pentecostal preacher, a charismatic so blighted by his personal dominion arrogance that he not only alienates his frightened wife (Farrah Fawcett) but whams her decent new boyfriend with a baseball bat. On the lamb from Texas, crime and responsibility, Sonny ground-up forms a fledgling church in the Louisiana bayous, spellbinding and converting new scripture-sheep to the flock, including a recently separated gal (Miranda Richardson) who starts to fall for his spiel. You can’t keep a good preacher/con man/nutjob down, ‘specially one with Gawd on his righteous side. *
The acting’s notable: Duvall tears at it with a will—he was Oscar-nominated as Best Actor—and there’s a welcome appearance from June Carter Cash, adding flavor as ‘Momma Dewey’. Reviews were mostly ecstatic but, sinner that I be, I fell more into line with the minority chorus, who saw a draining, drawn-out siege of rampant actor ego, with the bellowing writer-director-star so in thrall to his self-created characterization that he short-shrifts everyone else. Sonny is also such a self-obsessed, bullying, off-putting louse it’s fairly absurd to think that—other than the Dewey-pointed script dictates it—the comely and sensitive gals played by Fawcett and Richardson would find such a blunt, sputtering, 66-year-old slug somehow captivating (at least the supra-confident Bob doesn’t employ that damned irritating chuckle he’s been jamming into roles for years). The actresses are game but poorly used, both barely allowed to get enough of a shared scene to breath in and then are each abruptly discarded to make more room for the he-bull to snort.
With expected good work—clawed away from the star in nuggets—from John Beasley, Rick Dial, Billy Ray Shaver, Walton Goggins, Billy Bob Thornton and James Gammon. The Louisiana locations featured include Saint Martinville and Des Allemandes. Along with the production cost, another $3,000,000 was hallelujah’d into The Word, or, as we sinners call it, advertising. Reviews praised Brother Duvall, the holy gross came to $21,278,000, laying down the gospel according to the Book of Receipts, Verse 11, blessing pew #88 for the year.
* While enjoying the big old Biblical epics, when it comes to non-ancient anointing, apart from a handful (The Song Of Bernadette, Of Gods And Men and Higher Ground stand out) your Hades-bound reviewer has never been swooned by these suffer-for-‘faith’ gigs. Like most who pay attention to our magnificent fiasco, I face ongoing existential questions about Life and my rickety place in it, yet consider myself fortunate not to be further saddled with the dogmatic fairy-tale nonsense that clouds billions of Cro-Mag noggins round our simmering sphere. Being ‘chosen’ (for what, by & says who?), murdering innocents for the prize of 72 virgins (how about just 7, and 65 pre-spoiled who know what they’re doing?), excusing the biggest, oldest pedophile ring in history because you enjoy chanting, making believe Noah told dinosaurs they’d have to swim for it, putting up with 5,000 lifetimes in a sewer before you can move up a caste and beg from a hut—and all these assorted foaming charlatans and tinklewits threatening to kill me if I raise my hand with a question?—-sorry, Holy schmoes, just cut the bull, sell me a bridge for $24, already, and for the ever-loving mercy of all possible deities in the truly heavenly Universe, shut…TF…up. Yeah, yeah, Hell yawns…if I want uplifting nunsense I’ll stick with Rosalind Russell’s ‘Mother Superior’ tussle with Hayley Mills in The Trouble With Angels or Ingrid Bergman’s sweet ‘Sister Benedict’ coaching a left jab in The Bells Of St. Mary’s.