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Eulis 'Sonny' Dewey is a preacher from Texas living a happy life with his beautiful wife Jessie. Suddenly his stable world crumbles: Jessie is having an affair with young minister Horace. Sonny gets enraged and hits Horace with a softball bat, putting him into a coma. After that he leaves town, takes a new name, 'Apostle E.F.' and goes to Louisiana. There he starts to work as a mechanic for local radio station owner Elmo, and Elmo lets him preach on the radio. E.F. starts to preach everywhere: on the radio, on the streets, and with his new friend, Reverend Blackwell he starts a campaign to renovate an old church. Written by
My husband and I have loved this movie since we saw it the first four or five times. After recently buying a DVD and getting The Apostle in DVD we found a new since of excitement. The director's insights given have enriched the movie and given it deeper personality. Here is a few thoughts to help capture this wonderful creation
Eulis `Sonny' Dewey is a Southern Pentecostal Holiness Evangelist and Preacher from Texas living a seemingly happy life with his wife Jessie and his two `beauties' (children). Suddenly his flashy, hyped world comes apart: Jessie is having an affair with youth minister Horace. Sonny gets drunk, enraged and hits Horace with a baseball bat, putting him into a coma in which he later dies. Sonny escapes town, takes a new name, `The Apostle E.F.', and goes to Louisiana. He starts to work as a mechanic for local radio station owner, Elmo, and Elmo lets him preach on the radio. E.F. starts to preach everywhere: on the radio, on the streets, and with his new friend, Reverend Blackwell, he starts a campaign to renovate an old church. Along the way he wants to have an affair with Elmo's secretary `Toosie,' and all the time he is preaching, he knows his time is running out. His past sins are catching up with him and so is the law.
The character of Sonny is developed in every scene. Each scene reveals another complex part of Sonny's character. One scene will show his humility and the next shows his pride. These contradictions of, sanctification versus earthiness, generosity versus possessiveness, and open affability versus anger are developed to show the complexity in Sonny's character. Robert Duvall's sense of evil is simple and forgiving (things most all people deal with). Robert Duvall constantly explores how good a human can be and how much good he can do when `sold out' to God. His personal communication scenes with Jesus make his character seem vulnerable, open, and honest.
The Apostle is set in a Southern, God Fearing, Right Wing, Conservative, setting. Even though Sonny has had a `womanizing' problem in the past, the morality is certainly conveyed as an absolute and conservative religious morality. This is a community of a small group that belongs to Jesus and Sonny's `little church'. Since the Southern Pentecostal Church, containing both Blacks and Whites together is, not a stereotype, The Apostle is developing new territory in genre definition. The ideas of feminism or gay liberation are hardly understood in this rural religious Southern setting. Morality and fidelity are high on their social standards. However, overeating and gluttony are accepted weaknesses. Getting drunk is one weakness that most of the men have had in their younger rebellious days.
The charismatic, convincing, conniving, and calculating Sonny describes a most entertaining and flawed `Man of God'. The theme of an uneasy co-existence of the holy part of Sonny, with his flesh, is brought to film for the first time. The protagonist Sonny is the most authentic portrayal of a Southern Pentecostal Holiness Evangelist/Preacher with almost every other word being, `Praise the Lord,' `Hallelujah', `Amen,' `Thank you, Jesus,' which all come from his heart.
The other (earthly) side of Sonny is aptly convincing. Earthy examples are: his description of his womanizing to his wife, his drunken fight, (where he strikes his wife's lover with a baseball bat), and his cruelly dragging his wife off the ball field by her hair, and showing his obvious drunkenness, anger and cruelty when he blew up. Another subtle example is when he is doing his charismatic preaching on the radio, while the secretary is watching his intensity, and he follows it by preaching to her, (meanwhile, there is this calculating sales pitch with sexual sub-text between the two people).
A subtle but revealing example of Sonny's character is shown by Duvall's acting in two `sales-like, asking for the order' scenes. The first scene takes place where Sonny and the secretary have had several encounters and Sonny is trying to get into her life, house, and bedroom. After a couple of hot intense smothering kisses, Sonny keeps saying, `Come on now,' for his closing `pitch', to which she keeps answering, `Next time'. The other is in the closing scenes of the movie inside the `One Way Road to Heaven' church. Sonny and members are having an `altar call', and have been singing, `Softly and Tenderly Jesus is Calling', and as a final plea to a parishioner to accept Jesus into his life, Sonny keeps using his sales phrase `Come on now!' Even though the words are previously used for his earthly desires, in this scene he captures his passion to perfection and his tears are genuine as he pleads with all his heart.
In my mind, I can describe Robert Duvall's Academy Award deserving character acting as a poignant, perplexing, portrayal of a paradoxical, problematic, passionate, preacher. Even though I could also choose Jack Nicholson's role in `As Good As It Gets'(who won the Oscar), the depth and breadth of Nicholson's acting don't measure up to the job done by probably America's greatest actor, Robert Duvall. I believe this technique of documentary style filmmaking places the burden of carrying the movie on the acting and solely on Robert Duvall's Academy Award winning shoulders, and he delivers
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