February 22, 1998 -- I'd like to publicly thank Robert Duvall for making the film "The Apostle." If he hadn't done it, I don't know who would have. It needed to be made.
This is one of the best films I have ever seen on the Christian religion, and it is just miles beyond the usual excrement that Hollywood puts out on the subject. A more typical portrayal of a Christian can be found in the movie "Seven," an obsessive-compulsive killer.
Duvall plays Euliss "Sonny" Dewey, an evangelical preacher in "The Apostle," but he's not perfect. In fact, the very passion that stokes his fires behind the pulpit also gets him into trouble. A man of unwavering faith, he is also manipulative, unfaithful to his wife (played by Farrah Fawcett) and has a violent temper.
In the beginning of the movie Dewey stops at the scene of a car accident to convert an injured man. He is ecstatic when he succeeds. He is the sort of man who would notch his well-worn bible for each conversion like a gunslinger would notch the handles of his gun for every kill.
Dewey is engaged in a personal battle with the devil for other people's souls and for his own. He knows the devil as well as he knows God. In a fit of rage he seriously injures his wife's new lover with a baseball bat. He goes on the run, fleeing to a different state to avoid prosecution.
Dewey baptizes himself anew and emerges from the river as the Apostle E.F. He begins building a new church, as if to atone for his own sins. He is full of energy, working two jobs and fixing up a run down old church while his past and his inner demons torment him.
While Dewey remains the same inside, those around him are transformed by his faith and his fiery preaching. Two conversions in the film are exceptionally moving. The final one takes place in one of the film's final scenes. This is where the typical Hollywood film would have a shootout or suicide to resolve the conflict. Instead, we get a spellbinding sermon from Dewey. He puts everything he's got into it. If you see this film, don't forget to watch the first minute or two of the credits, it is an important extension of the story.
The message of this film is really the exact opposite of most Hollywood films, which portray those of religious faith as being of limited intelligence, hypocritical and intolerant. The film doesn't say Christians are better than other people, but it does argue that some people need religion. It also argues that people are better off with faith than without it, which is also the opposite point of view you find in most Hollywood films.
Robert Duvall is simply outstanding as Dewey. He richly deserves an Academy Award for his performance, but will probably lose to Dustin Hoffman. Duvall also wrote the screenplay and directed the film. This is one of the best films of 1997 and it rates an A.
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