Over the course of 20 years, Robert Duvall devoted himself to "The Apostle." He envisioned it, wrote it, promoted it, wrote some more, sought funding, got rejected, wrote some more, got rejected some more and then, out of absolute love and devotion he finished the script, assembled the funding himself and turned into writer, director and star of the project.
The resulting labor of love manifests one of the greatest portrayals of a preacher ever captured onscreen. Duvall portrays "The Apostle" as a man of God with all his glorious weaknesses, strengths, righteousness and sins. The story centers around Duvall's character, a Southern Pentecostal minister whose entire existence is centered around serving God often to the neglect of his own life and certainly his own wife (played by Farrah Fawcett).
One day, while preaching at a revival, the preacher comes to realize that his wife may, in fact, be having an affair. The result of this revelation is life-changing, tragic and leads him down a road to redemption.
He leaves, changes his name to "Apostle E.F." and takes over a mostly African-American congregation. The result is a journey that is exciting, inspiring, frightening and, quite simply, one of the most authentic spiritual journeys ever captured onscreen.
Duvall's script is one of subtle grace and beauty. "The Apostle" is clearly a man of God, but this is not the type of minister we are used to seeing in a film. This man is deeply flawed, capable of great anger and even greater pride...yet, he has clearly surrendered his life to the Lord and is willing to start over again and again and again.
There are so many wonderful touches here including the sheer unexpectedness of the script. What could have been a story filled with cliche'd characters instead challenges the audience to surrender to the characters and the full, highest potential. Billy Bob Thornton shows up as a redneck/racist, but the scene doesn't play out predictably. The same is true for a scene involving Miranda Richardson and the often delicate dancing of dating and ministry. These scenes shine because they are richly human and complex in their presentation. June Carter Cash and Todd Allen also show up and turn in outstanding supporting performances.
Because Duvall lived with these characters for so long, he is clearly comfortable with them and trusts them. His direction is relaxed and well-paced and he gives the actors/actresses the chance to breathe life into their characters. The cinematography even reflects Duvall's deep devotion to a sort of relaxed reverence that plays out throughout the entire film.
Many in my life were, quite literally, stunned when I became an ordained minister. I was not, and am not, the milque toast minister that so many of us are used to in our daily lives and that often gets played out in American cinema. I, much like "The Apostle" am a deeply flawed, frighteningly human but deeply devoted man of God determined to love and serve every human I meet. I am not perfect, but I am faithful. So, I suppose I feel a kinship to "The Apostle." In some ways, it feels like it could have been written about me. Of course, the stories would have been different, but the journey would have been quite similar.
Is "The Apostle" a perfect film? No, not quite. In particular, Farrah Fawcett feels a tad bland in her role as Duvall's wife. Surrounded by performances of great depth and soul, Fawcett's performance feels shallow and lacking. Yet, her part is relatively minor and doesn't hinder the overall power of the film.
Those who grew up in or around Pentecostal circles will have a deep appreciation for "The Apostle," but the film will be a revelation to all who embrace the finest of independent cinema. Much like the preacher's journey, Duvall's journey of faith and hope has resulted in a little bit of struggle, a little bit of pain and a whole lot of praise.