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Roy Anker

Preacher Man

Robert Duvall's The Apostle goads not only secularists but conventional believers as well.

The Apostle is not the sort of film that gets made by Hollywood, not even when pitched by one of the most esteemed actors in the business. Oscar-winner Robert Duvall—the writer, producer, director, and star of The Apostle—tried in vain for 13 years to get a studio to bankroll his project. The film finally made it to the screen only because Duvall put up $5 million of his own. And once again, a film that Hollywood didn't want to make has turned out to be really quite something: a low-budget wonder that has earned lavish critical praise and won for Duvall the Los Angeles Film Critics' and the National Society of Film Critics' best actor awards.

The marvel of The Apostle is that Duvall has fashioned a plausible, complex, compelling, and ultimately stirring portrait of a go-for-broke holiness Pentecostal preacher who, though grievously flawed, is not a huckster, fool, buffoon, or simpleton. In constructing this rarity, Duvall took on the puerile stereotype of Hollywood's least favorite people, evangelical Protestants, especially of the southern white fundamentalist variety—a group it is safe to bash without fear of reprisal from the pc police. For Duvall, a lifelong believer, at least part of the motivation for doing The Apostle lay in his desire, as he put it in one interview, to "give credence" to a suspect people, offering a corrective to the incomprehension and fear of the nation's culture-brokers.

The Reverend Eulis "Sonny" Dewey (Duvall) is the minister of a thriving interracial Pentecostal congregation in Fort Worth: not your homogeneous Church of the Upwardly Mobile. Duvall doesn't soft-pedal the fiery theology or the fervent zeal of Sonny Dewey and his flock. Rather, the spare documentary style of the film accentuates the many rough angularities of the spiritual universe Sonny Dewey inhabits. For cultured despisers, and also for hordes of cultured believers, Sonny and his kind are a bit much. Indeed, for most moviegoers, Sonny's realm of signs and ...

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