The Apostle, written and directed by Robert Duvall, unfolds with the elegant simplicity of a folk tale.
At first, Euliss "Sonny" Dewey (Duvall), a Texas Pentecostal preacher, seems to have everything he values: family, a career fueled by a strong sense of purpose. But Sonny's hardly a saint. His wife Jessie (Farrah Fawcett) has grown weary of his vices &emdash; drinking, other women, long trips away from home &emdash; and has begun an affair with a younger minister.
Sonny, utterly shameless and convinced of his charm and powers of persuasion, believes he can re-woo her. But Jessie deals him a coup de grace: she wrangles the control of his church away from him.
During a very loud, late-night "discussion" Sonny has with God about his predicament, his mother (June Carter Cash) receives a phone call from a complaining neighbor. Her reaction is not embarrassment, but an almost-bursting pride in her son's direct line to heaven. For Sonny, faith is an active and daily part of life, and he views God not as an abstract concept but a viable entity.
When his life is radically altered by a violent act, Sonny rechristens himself the Apostle E.F., makes a humble pilgrimage to a Louisiana bayou town and builds a new congregation from the ground up. The One Way Road to Heaven Church turns out to be his road to redemption.
Duvall creates a complex and capable man, able to win converts with his knowledge of automobile mechanics as well as the Bible. Even as the Apostle E.F., he still displays a seductive charisma, romantically pursuing Toosie (Miranda Richardson) with confident zeal.
When a racist (Billy Bob Thornton) interrupts the service at his matter-of-factly integrated church, Sonny has no qualms about using his fists. But it's Sonny's words and the fervor of his belief that ultimately win over this hate-filled man.
The Apostle presents a clear-eyed view of the strength derived from unwavering faith. There may be a whole lot of furious preaching going on, but for Robert Duvall, showing devotion is quite different from being preachy.
Serena Donadoni writes about film for the Metro Times. E-mail her at email@example.com.