Heaven forbid

The Apostle's road to hell is paved with good intentions

Duvall's performance is indeed captivating, but that's because he wrote and directed and paid for the whole blessed affair; The Apostle is like a cut-rate Nuts, a showcase for its star. Like Barbra Streisand when she writes and directs and gives herself the juicy lead, Duvall doesn't rein himself in or allow others the spotlight; he stands in front of the camera and capital-A acts with reckless abandon, showboating while others look on and fill the scenery. He buries the other actors; they're more like passing shadows, especially Fawcett as the beleaguered wife who can no longer take Sonny's thumping. She says more with a downward glance than Sonny does with a thousand hallelujahs; yet we're never given a glimpse of her life without Sonny, and when he leaves for Louisiana, she, too, disappears.

Also lost in the shuffle is a great performance by John Beasley as the weary Brother Blackwell, a man who gave up his Bayou Boutte church when his heart became too weak. It's Brother Blackwell who gives his decrepit house of worship to Sonny, even though he's suspicious of this white man who shows up at his door offering no name, no history, no motive other than his desire to save a few souls. Brother Blackwell's the true apostle--a righteous, trusting man willing to give himself over to the Lord even if he might be the devil in disguise. Here, though, he's just one more character bulldozed by Duvall's fire-and-brimstone performance, a member of a congregation where the preacher's doing all the talking.

The Apostle.
Written and directed by Robert Duvall. Starring Duvall, Farrah Fawcett, Miranda Richardson, Todd Allen, John Beasley, Billy Joe Shaver, and Billy Bob Thornton. Opens Friday.

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