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IN SHORT: Brilliant Duvall, but at the expense of the story.
Cranky has written many times of how opposed he is to the idea of one person wearing the three hats of writer and director and producer. One person going for the film equivalent of hockey's hat trick inevitably shorts him or herself in one or more of the categories. Cranky suffers through these failings many times during the course of any given year, usually while watching novice filmmakers who are forced into their haberdashery because of severe budget limitations.
Then there are the actors or writers, usually, whose ego makes the decision to expand their wardrobe. Actor Robert Duvall, who has played this trifecta before and has not embarrassed himself, comes so close to hitting the mark that it's sad to say that his latest effort, The Apostle, misses by a hair. A very thin hair.
As the evangelical preacher Euliss "Sonny" Dewey, Duvall gets to act his socks off. Problem is that all the supporting roles don't have much to do. From the long suffering wife (Farrah Fawcett) to the racist with a bulldozer (Billy Bob Thornton), these fine actors are mere toothpicks upon which Duvall plays out a story sorely in need of another pair of hands and another point of view.
The gist of the story: Li'l Euliss spent his Sundays in a Negro Pentecostal church somewhere in Texas. He's grown up into a white Preacher with a Black sound (kinda like Elvis, now that I think about it) who hits the road in tent shows. He lives and breathes for Jesus and, if his wife has eyes for a younger preacher in the Temple... well, a swig of whisky and a baseball bat will accomplish what Jesus won't.
On the run from the law, Sonny sheds his previous identity, re- baptizes himself and becomes "The Apostle EF," fixing cars and slinging hash while he raises funds to open a new church tending to the black congregation in Bayou Bouté, Louisiana. He still makes the occasional call to check up on his ailing mother (June Carter Cash) and sets his sights on the secretary (Miranda Richardson) at the local radio station where he buys air time. "The Apostle" opens his church, he saves a racist (Thornton) and he preaches up a storm as the cops wait to take him away. Cranky's given away nothing by telling you all this. The Apostle is a simple sin and redemption story so clear cut that once you get halfway into it you know where it's going.
Any director that managed to hire such a stellar supporting cast would ensure that they all have something substantial to build their characters on; that the key scenes are fully developed. But director Duvall's focus seems to be laser sharp on actor Duvall. The script by writer Duvall sets up the basic situations well, but fails to develop the scenes that director Duvall lets actor Duvall wail away in. We have no idea where The Apostle's mom was when he was a kidlet and only God knows what Billy Bob Thornton's character has against either black folk or their Pentecostal church.
It may be that those of you who worship in the Pentecostal churches will automatically know how to fill in the holes. Cranky didn't. He sat there enjoying Duvall's performance and by the time The Apostle started feeling too damn long, it was just about over.
On average, a first run movie ticket will run you Eight Bucks. Were Cranky able to set his own price for The Apostle, he would have paid . . .
Rent it for good performances from Duvall and Richardson. Everyone else is scenery. Unfortunately.
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