The Apostle 3.0 stars

In the role of the director and writer as well as of the titular character, Robert Duvall gives generously to himself, and to others too. An actor's director par excellence, he exhibits a patience that verges, if not on the infinite, at least on the Cassavetes-esque, in permitting his players to settle into their own space at their own speed. He approaches his own character -- a Texas Bible-thumper whose sincerity is such that he cannot pass a car accident on a country road without poking his nose through the victims' window in hopes of a death's-door salvation -- with no axe to grind, no angle to play, no particular point of attack, but still less with any deference, any shared belief, any stamp of approval. It's one man to another: actor to preacher: eye to eye. And any excesses in the performance -- any tendency to overproject, any temptation to stand back and watch himself work -- are readily absorbed into the personality of the evangelist. This is a man who is always "on," because even when alone at night he has an audience of the Omnipresent: "I love you, Lord, but I am mad at you!" The storyline is nothing more than a snippet of a lifeline, the tailing arc from his break-up with his wife, to his hitting the road after hitting her lover with a baseball bat, to his setting up a new church (and not just a church, either, but a "holiness temple") in a new state under a new name, with a new prospect of feminine companionship. (The courtship produces some of the movie's, which is to say the actors', most delightful moments: the saying of grace at a restaurant table on a first date, the negotiation of a goodnight hug at the front door.) But the line is also rather narrow, and overextended into the bargain. Where, when all is said and done, does it go? Well: it goes at the very least to illustrate in colorful specifics some broad truism to the effect that a man may change his identity but not his basic nature. Even when the police have at long last closed in on him, and the line has no farther to go, and the movie has already well overshot the two-hour mark, he will not be hurried through his final church service. The preacher, in common with the actor, does not want to have to get off the stage. Miranda Richardson, Farrah Fawcett, John Beasley, Todd Allen. 1997.

Duncan Shepherd

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