Wednesday, May 31, 2006

The Apostle


Dir: Robert Duvall (Assasination Tango)

Another Southern themed film that I had not seen in many years. The Apostle, written and directed by and starring Robert Duvall, is an absolute triumph, a testament to the power of the medium and what talent can do when given the chance. Duvall had to put up the money for the film himself after trying unsuccessfully for over a decade to get a studio to make it. And the reasons why it was shunned are apparent. The Apostle takes religion seriously, is undeterred in its development of character, takes its time to really explore the themes of the film, and combines a simple narrative with a deep and complex symbolism that rewards multiple viewings. In a sense, it is everything good about movies that challenges an audience.

Duvall plays a complicated man of God, whose personal demons lead him to stray from the same flock that he is so good at brining others into. His horrible deeds cause him to flee and undertake a spiritual journey of redemption, to reconnect with the fundamental goodness of religion before it is polluted by human hypocricy and sin. With the threat of worldy justice forever hanging over his minsterial work, he represents the promise of faith as well as the seemingly universal ability of humans to betray the faith of others. The message is beautiful, moving, gripping, and expertly crafted.

Duvall's performance is absolutely mercurial, holding his own among the real life revivalists that he hired to play preachers, and surpassing them in the film's climactic final sermon. June Carter Cash and Miranda Richardson also shine, the latter effecting a magnificent Southern accent to hide her own British roots. An oddly flat note is played by Billy Bob Thornton as a bigot, who unlike his role in The Man Who Wasn't There, needs to bring a bit more energy to this role.

Another slight flaw is the fact that Duvall wrote this movie for himself years before making it, and his age now makes some of the "lady's man" themes a bit of a stretch. But all approach the scenes with gusto, so we may turn a blind eye due to the idiocy of the studios for blocking the script for so long.

But none of this in any way detracts from the power of The Apostle. When you have a story this well written, this insightful, this well acted and shot, and this important to our understanding of ourselves, I can do nothing but praise it.

Truly exceptional film. My absolute highest recommendation, BME.