The Apostle

The Apostle

****

Reviewed by: Angus Wolfe Murray

Screen evangelists are usually bad news. Corruption and deceipt have sexier spins. Who would make The Billy Graham Story? Where's the scandal? Robert Duvall skirts the cliche by playing a preacher who is not cheating his parishioners. He has a special relationship with the Holy Ghost. He loves his job. Saving souls is as sweet as mending a busted clutch (he's a mechanic, too) - sweeter even.

He's not a saint. In fact, he's not close. He likes the ladies. He likes the power of the preacher's spell. His marriage to Jesse (Farrah Fawcett) is over, although he won't let it rest. She's having an affair with a younger man and is scared of what he might do. The rural Texas community, where he started his church, have voted him out. He can't accept it, can't believe such ingratitude. How could they do this to him? In a moment of blind fury, he takes a baseball bat to Jesse's lover during a junior league game and beats him senseless. Afterwards, he makes himself scarce, leaving his sick mother, leaving everything. He has to start all over, with a new identity, somewhere else, a possible murder rap hanging over him.

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This is entirely Duvall's film. He gives himself a T-bone of a role, which he exploits with due diligence and compassion. It is what was once known as a tour-de-force, a piece of acting that lifts you into the air and spins your head around. He shows the contradictory aspects of the preacher's character and makes them fit the man. He has charm, energy, humour and determination. There is also conceipt, anguish, stubbornness and rage. The story begins when he's on the run, how he starts The One Way Road To Heaven Holiness Temple on the edge of a forgotten Louisiana small town, with nothing but faith and the money he makes from odd jobs and the support of friends he gathers along the way. Quite quickly he has a regular spot on local radio and soon a congregation builds. It is a kind of miracle.

Miranda Richardson gives an unforgettable performance as a lonely secretary who is nervous of involvement and yet captivated by Duvall's charisma. When she is there, which is not enough, she shines like starlight through cotton woods. The look of the film and the acting stay with you. For Duvall, it is a towering achievement (he used $5million of his own money to get it made), not least for the quality of the writing.

Reviewed on: 19 Jan 2001
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A preacher on the run finds a new flock.
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