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Darren H

The Apostle

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I can't find a thread dedicated to this film. Mods, feel free to delete/merge this one if I'm mistaken.

I really liked most of The Apostle. It's a strange experience to see Robert Duvall in the behind-the-scenes features and be reminded that, yes, he is acting. This is a performance. I especially liked the non-professional actors (my favorite moment is the old man nervously playing his trumpet near the end). What the movie gets right is fellowship, the community of church-building. This is now four weekends in a row that a movie's made me cry.

If I could play devil's advocate, though, I have one major qualm with the movie, and I'm hoping some of you can talk me out of it. In a nutshell, I wish Sonny's sinfulness had been depicted more, um, sinfully.

SPOILERS

Some of you already know this, but six years ago two members of my immediate family were murdered. I won't go into details, but it was a violent and brutal act, and that experience, understandably, has made me much more sensitive to depictions of violence in the media. The Apostle turns on an act of murderous violence, but it's depicted without a single drop of blood. Sonny hits Horace in the face with a baseball bat, sending him into a coma and, eventually, to death. But when we see him on the ground, there's no damage to his face. It's like he just lay down and fell asleep. Likewise, we hear that Sonny is a womanizer and we watch him seduce Toosie, but it's all left too abstract, too metaphorical, for my tastes.

I'm harping on this because I'm always suspicious of storytellers who want us to sympathize with sinners (a noble ambition) but are hesitant to really show sin for fear of distancing the audience. It just occurred to me that The Bad Lieutenant is no longer on our list, which seems to be a pretty sizable loss. Ferrara, unlike Duvall, isn't afraid of showing fallenness, and I think that makes his film more interesting both as a film and as a "spiritual" or theological work.

Ultimately, I'm left wondering at the end of The Apostle if I've actually witnessed any kind of transformation in Sonny. (Maybe that's not the point of the film or why it scored so many points in our polling.) If the lesson to be learned is that God will use the fallen for His noble purposes, then being confronted by that fallnness (a la Ferrara) would make the lesson even more poignant, right?

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I have The Apostle on a "Need to Revisit" list. I remember the scene you're talking about and it never occured to me there was no blood or facial damage. And when you ended the paragraph saying that it should have been there, in light of all your family has already been through, I had to go back and re-read. I get it -- it logically adds up. It's just not what I was expecting from the beginning of that paragraph. (Most of the time when someone's been through something traumatic, you hear that they don't want to see that trauma again.)

The fallen prophet theme is also handled in our latest addition to the t100, in a film that I need to get on the ball for the blurb for (I'll have it this week, Greg, now I'm in public on record so I promise), is Frisbee: The Life and Death of a Hippee Preacher. When I nominated it, I didn't expect it to make the list. Somehow it did. I guess more people saw, and were touched by it, than just me. In that documentary, the prophet is indeed fallen, or at the very least he experiences times of fallenness, but he's still used by God in planting churches that have currently hit the big-time, before finally being fully rejected by the churches he began.

It's a real life similar theme on the same list. I guess Ordet's Johannes could also fit this theme, although he's not as "fallen" as he is mentally ill.

Edited by Persona

In an interstellar burst, I am back to save the Universe.

Filmsweep by Persona. 2013 Film Journal. IlPersona.

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Yeah, I don't want to see images of violence, but I feel very strongly that movies that are about violence (and I'd put The Apostle on that list -- it's about many other things, too, of course) should deal with violence honestly. Imagine how different this movie would be if, instead of seeing a group of churchgoers calmly praying over the injured Horace, we saw his crushed skull and the looks of horror and repulsion on the faces of the children who witnessed it. Or, imagine if there were a scene in which Sonny is having sex with some stranger after a revival in Kentucky.

I understand that, in practical terms, Duvall can't do that in this film. He financed the film himself and needed a PG rating. I don't expect every film to be Scorsese or Ferrara. But I honestly don't understand what to make of Sonny's journey. Late in the film, Sonny prays, "God, let Horace live," and on his commentary, Duvall says something like, "I added that line to show that Sonny is contrite." I guess that's just not good enough for me. He kills a guy with a baseball bat and screws around and destroys his family! Why am I rooting for him?

In a way, Stef, this comes back to that conversation we had about Revanche. I like that film so much, in part, because it puts us in a desperate world, where people are forced to make desperate decisions.

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Darren, I appreciate your response to the film.

For me, the whack with the baseball bat is shocking enough (at least, the last time I saw the film it was). I didn't need to see any more. A trauma like that can easily do fatal damage with little or no outward sign of injury ... and so matter-of-fact and unexpected an act of violence can easily blunt the reactions of onlookers who don't immediately process what they've seen.

I once saw a box truck run a red light, sideswipe a station wagon coming the other way, and ram head-on into a larger truck stopped at the light facing the other way. (I was stopped immediately behind the second truck; had that truck not been there, the errant truck would have run head-on into my Tempo, and I wouldn't be here.) What made the scene so surreal was that it just happened with no warning -- no screeching tires or anything. There was no time for anxiety; it was over by the time you realized anything was happening. It was horribly low-key.

I think that baseball bat in The Apostle is like that. It's over before you realize what's happening, no screaming, nothing dramatic. To me, that makes it less like a scene in a movie, and more horribly real.

The scenes of Sonny coming on to Toosie were likewise queasy enough for me, and underscore the senses in which Sonny is and is not contrite. Infidelity is in acts such as these. Sex scenes often take me out of a movie anyway. The movie's restraint is its power.

Sonny, as I see him, is both sorry and not sorry about his actions. He regrets the consequences but doesn't really try to change how he lives. I root for him in the sense that I want him to repent, but I also have a distance on him in that I don't think he really does change. He prays for Horace to live, but has he really repented of clocking him with the bat? I'm not sure.

Sonny is haunted by the Spirit but lives in the flesh. He preaches because he doesn't know how not to preach. He's like what Reese says about the Terminator: "It's what he does! It's all he does!" Sonny may even lay down his life if the occasion seems to call for it ... but he'll still come on to the next available woman.

Sonny is a character almost unknown in cinema, from a subculture often parodied and widely despised. He is a profoundly flawed character, and I don't think the movie needs to underscore that. That the film allows him to be so flawed without either making us despise him or going for some kind of tearfully contrite breakdown is an exquisite balancing act, one I think the film strikes with remarkable grace.


“I write because I don’t know what I think until I read what I say.” — Flannery O'Connor

Writing at the new Decent Films | Follow me on Twitter and Facebook

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That the film allows him to be so flawed without either making us despise him or going for some kind of tearfully contrite breakdown is an exquisite balancing act, one I think the film strikes with remarkable grace.

I tend this direction with the film as well, and the nearest equivalent I can think of is O.E. Parker in O'Connor's "Parker's Back."

O.E. Parker is a character that seems intended to stand in for the complexities of law and grace, and isn't even quite aware of it. The same may be said of Sonny despite the fact that he even goes so far as to re-baptize himself. The theological rationale behind such an act is every bit as estranged from the good ol' gospel as O.E. Parker tattooing Jesus on his back.

Edited by M. Leary

"...the vivid crossing of borders between film and theology may save the film from the banality of cinema and festival business, and it may also save the church from the deep sleep of the habitual and the always known."

(Hans Werner Dannowski)

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: Ferrara, unlike Duvall, isn't afraid of showing fallenness,

...understatement of the year.

Otherwise what SDG said.

I think if it had been more graphic it would have been obvious that he was going to die, but part of the film's complexity is that his death is just something that emerges as it goes along, and we experience it a bit more as he does. It also brings out more strongly how an action in an angry moment can have far worse consequences than you actually expect.

Matt

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I think if it had been more graphic it would have been obvious that he was going to die, but part of the film's complexity is that his death is just something that emerges as it goes along, and we experience it a bit more as he does. It also brings out more strongly how an action in an angry moment can have far worse consequences than you actually expect.

What Matt said.


“I write because I don’t know what I think until I read what I say.” — Flannery O'Connor

Writing at the new Decent Films | Follow me on Twitter and Facebook

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Liveliest interview at CT Movies in a long time:

You observed a lot of preachers while doing your research, didn't you?

All over America. And mostly in black churches. I love going to black churches, and I love some of these black preachers. The best preacher I ever saw in my life was a 93-year-old in a black church in Hamilton, Virginia. What a preacher! He'd make Mahatma Gandhi look like a Nazi. He was so spiritual, this man. A wonderful man.

Some people thought The Apostle was mocking Southern holiness or Pentecostal preachers …

Who said that?

Oh, some Christians wished it had been a more positive portrayal of a preacher rather than a man with all these …

Let me straighten these people out. And you can put it in print. My guy [Rev. Euliss "Sonny" Dewey, the title character] killed a guy out of anger, right? But he wasn't one half as bad as King David in the Psalms, who sent a man off to be killed so he could be with his wife. Every time I read the Psalms I think of that. But on the other hand, I heard that Billy Graham liked the movie, and many, many preachers did. Rev. James Robison of Fort Worth said I could use anything from any of his services to put in the film. So I'm not mocking.

If Hollywood had done this, they would have mocked these people. No, I did not mock these people. I didn't patronize these people. I've been in many, many churches, Pentecostal churches. I could have made these people look bad if I wanted to. So you can tell these people I did not mock these people or condescend at all. Had I done it in a Hollywood movie, we would have patronized these people. That's why I had to do the movie myself.

Why do you think Hollywood has a tendency to mock Christians and preachers?

Well, it's not just Christians. I mean, I'm a Christian. But they mock the interior of the United States of America, the heartland. They don't go out of their way to understand what's really there.

Edited by Overstreet

P.S.  I COULD BE WRONG.

 

Takin' 'er easy for all you sinners at lookingcloser.org. Also abiding at Facebook and Twitter.

 

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The best part of that interview is at the end:

You tell your readers there is no way that I wanted to make fun of the Pentecostal people! If I had wanted to make them look like bad people, I could have, believe me.

Heh.


"Sympathy must precede belligerence. First I must understand the other, as it were, from the inside; then I can critique it from the outside. So many people skip right to the latter." -- Steven D. Greydanus
Now blogging at Patheos.com. I can also still be found at Facebook, Twitter and Flickr. See also my film journal.

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Ha! Pretty good interview. I loved Mark's reaction to one Duvall response as the interview wound down:

We've got less than a minute left. Any last words about Get Low that we didn't cover?

Yeah. Get Low is one of my favorite films in a long time and a wonderful character. "Get low"—I don't even know what that means. I guess it means to get low for Jesus before it's time. Keep above the ground before you go below the ground.

Huh?

You'll probably get a different definition from the producers but that's kind of the way that I look at it. And it's a film that we're real proud of.


"What matters are movies, not awards; experiences, not celebrations; the subjective power of individual critical points of view, not the declamatory compromises of consensus." - Richard Brody, "Godard's Surprise Win Is a Victory for Independent Cinema," The New Yorker

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Working my way through the rest of A&F's top 100 that I haven't seen yet, I just got around to this one.

I like Robert Duvall, but I had a hard time watching this. It wasn't the man trying to serve God while being a sinner (and perhaps a not completely repentent sinner) part of the story that bothered me. That part of the story is interesting. But the fact that he's a Pentecostal/Holiness movement preacher made it hard. I've interacted with the pentecostal church and people on a number of occasions, and they always leave me a little dumbfounded.

In undergraduate college, I was involved in Christian college ministry to a certain extent. And at the secular college I attended, there was also a Pentecostal Christian group of students there. I'm not sure if I've ever met a more emotional, never-thinking-for-themselves, oblivious to PR, naive group of Christians. Everything they did seemed to set us back in our ministry. They organized shizzle like "Jericho walks" around the campus, where they'd walk in a cirlce (seven times) praying and shouting around the college campus asking Jesus to cast all the demons out of classrooms. They would "speak in tongues" at a prayer meeting on campus once a month. If there was a better way to convince every nonbeliever college student there that [a] Christians were at least crazy, if perhaps not 100% mentally handicaped, and Christianity was something no reasonable person would ever want a part of, well ... I couldn't think of one. I also attended a Pentecostal church three Sundays in a row while visiting a friend in the south, I left that experience just feeling depressed. The whole experience had an emptiness to it. And yet, many pentecostals I know really do love Jesus and often do things to reach parts of society living in poverty that other middle class, white, suburban churches never do.

This film is realistic enough to show how manipulative (and mindless) their preaching really is. Even Duvall's character, while seemingly more intelligent than others in the company he keeps, has been taught to think in a particular way that isn't the most self-aware (Duvall does a fantastic job showing this by the way). Right now is a time I'm really struggling with how to relate to and deal with evangelicalism in the American church. While the faults within evangelicalism are not really the same faults in pentecostalism (except for maybe some of the more obvious emotionally manipulative sh**), I still find the pentecostal/holiness crowd very depressing somehow.

It's Christianity, but not quite ... well ... there's something very very wrong in this subculture. The Apostle was interesting because somehow it seems to touch on some of the things are very wrong with it, while at the same time still portraying all the characters as real persons, human in their faults and desires, with a sort of sometimes simple, childlike faith that Jesus did smile upon in the New Testament.

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Persiflage wrote:

: This film is realistic enough to show how manipulative (and mindless) their preaching really is.

Heh.

I can remember when the film first came out (almost 13 years ago, now; the gap between now and then is almost as long as the gap between this film and Tender Mercies; and while I'm at it, I have to say I wish all the people interviewing Robert Duvall about the faith themes in his films would go beyond those two movies and start asking him how films like M*A*S*H and The Handmaid's Tale fit into his ouevre)...

Where was I? Oh, right. I can remember when the film first came out, and how a lot of Christians celebrated the first scene of the adult Duvall, in which he comes across a car crash and "saves" the driver. There's no question that the scene shows the character's sincerity, but what a lot of people missed was that it also showed his presumptuousness (how does he know that the driver of that car isn't ALREADY a Christian?), as well as his need for attention -- not from his fellow humans, but from God. It is, almost literally, a hit-and-run conversion, and the Duvall character shows little interest in the driver of that car beyond the fact that, by converting the guy, he "made news in Heaven this morning". (I seem to recall that the movie's press kit made a point of underscoring this somewhat more critical aspect of the scene.)

And yet... and yet... the scene does not end with Duvall and his mother driving away happy. As much as they may be doing what they do because they love being on a spiritual high, and as much as their actions may be motivated by a sort of sublimated ego, that isn't the note on which the scene concludes. Instead, the last shot in that sequence takes us back to the wrecked car -- and to the female passenger, who was absolutely motionless prior to this, and whose arm now moves for the first time.

Is this a miracle? Is the film suggesting that God may be answering prayers despite the self-centredness that is mixed in with those prayers? I think so. Or I think it's possible, at least.

... Aha, it turns out someone has posted that entire sequence on YouTube. Ah, this brings back memories. I used to play this sequence in lectures quite a bit just prior to the turn of the millennium.

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=qnkHAkIVba4

Edited by Peter T Chattaway

"Sympathy must precede belligerence. First I must understand the other, as it were, from the inside; then I can critique it from the outside. So many people skip right to the latter." -- Steven D. Greydanus
Now blogging at Patheos.com. I can also still be found at Facebook, Twitter and Flickr. See also my film journal.

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And yet... and yet... the scene does not end with Duvall and his mother driving away happy. As much as they may be doing what they do because they love being on a spiritual high, and as much as their actions may be motivated by a sort of sublimated ego, that isn't the note on which the scene concludes. Instead, the last shot in that sequence takes us back to the wrecked car -- and to the female passenger, who was absolutely motionless prior to this, and whose arm now moves for the first time.

Is this a miracle? Is the film suggesting that God may be answering prayers despite the self-centredness that is mixed in with those prayers? I think so. Or I think it's possible, at least.

Don't think I'd caught that before - thanks.

Matt

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Where was I? Oh, right. I can remember when the film first came out, and how a lot of Christians celebrated the first scene of the adult Duvall, in which he comes across a car crash and "saves" the driver. There's no question that the scene shows the character's sincerity, but what a lot of people missed was that it also showed his presumptuousness (how does he know that the driver of that car isn't ALREADY a Christian?), as well as his need for attention -- not from his fellow humans, but from God. It is, almost literally, a hit-and-run conversion, and the Duvall character shows little interest in the driver of that car beyond the fact that, by converting the guy, he "made news in Heaven this morning". (I seem to recall that the movie's press kit made a point of underscoring this somewhat more critical aspect of the scene.)

And yet... and yet... the scene does not end with Duvall and his mother driving away happy. As much as they may be doing what they do because they love being on a spiritual high, and as much as their actions may be motivated by a sort of sublimated ego, that isn't the note on which the scene concludes. Instead, the last shot in that sequence takes us back to the wrecked car -- and to the female passenger, who was absolutely motionless prior to this, and whose arm now moves for the first time.

Is this a miracle? Is the film suggesting that God may be answering prayers despite the self-centredness that is mixed in with those prayers? I think so. Or I think it's possible, at least.

Yes. Good point. No matter how sinful a Christian is, or how messed up his theology is, or how questionable his motives are, God still uses people just like this to affect others around them. This is probably a pretty good theme to think about throughout the film.

What is good about this film is, in spite of anything the main character does, Christianity is portrayed as something real and life-changing. These poor people may not be the most educated or intelligent, and they may be stuck in a church denomination that is pretty screwed up and often manipulative. The Reverend Blackwell and the younger mechanic, Sam, seem to be other examples of this. They love E.F. unconditionally, even when discovering that he possibly/probably did murder a man. And it's pretty clear that their characters are formed by their Christianity. Reverend Blackwell is the most interesting to me, because he seems to have cast all the main trappings of Pentecostalism aside (including the preaching if only for health reason), and what remains is a wise, Godly, and selfless man who supports what he's been taught to believe is God's kingdom on earth. My favorite scene in the whole film is Sam bounding up to each door, dropping off

Another paradox I didn't quite think of before is that, if I remember right, the Holiness movement is known for its belief that a believer is completely and absolutely sanctified the second he is saved (instead of the Orthodox belief that a Christian is completely justified, but in the process of being sanctified while still on earth). E.F. is in the "Holiness movement" and E.F. is also a perfect portrayal of a man who is not completely Sanctified just yet.

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I think it's important to note that the Apostle is not an argument for Pentacostalism (its quite critical at times), but instead is an observation of Sonny's story in the context of it. Perhaps that opens up enjoyment of this little gem of a film...perhaps it doesn't.

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This was a lot of fun to catch up with again, over a decade after I first saw it.

The commentary on the DVD is outstanding, btw. In regard to the scene Peter mentions above, I believe Duvall had a lot of respect for the mysticism of that scene. When the girl in the passenger seat moves her arm, I believe he said something like, "These things happen all the time. They're real."

I also loved discovering that many of the preachers were real preachers, and in particular the tent preacher who walked around with the "keys to the kingdom" illustration. I said when I watched it that I found it amazing because it was too real to come from a simple script. Imagine my delight when I watched with the commentary and found out that, indeed, it was real, and not scripted.


In an interstellar burst, I am back to save the Universe.

Filmsweep by Persona. 2013 Film Journal. IlPersona.

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This was a lot of fun to catch up with again, over a decade after I first saw it.

The commentary on the DVD is outstanding, btw. In regard to the scene Peter mentions above, I believe Duvall had a lot of respect for the mysticism of that scene. When the girl in the passenger seat moves her arm, I believe he said something like, "These things happen all the time. They're real."

I also loved discovering that many of the preachers were real preachers, and in particular the tent preacher who walked around with the "keys to the kingdom" illustration. I said when I watched it that I found it amazing because it was too real to come from a simple script. Imagine my delight when I watched with the commentary and found out that, indeed, it was real, and not scripted.

I felt similarly, Stef, when I rewatched this over the summer after a few year hiatus - the big scenes (the final sermon) and little details (the 2 bickering ladies on the church bus, the man blowing his trumpet in the church service) still all added up to a moving, lovely film experience.


To be an artist is never to avert one's eyes.
- Akira Kurosawa

https://www.patheos.com/blogs/secularcinephile/

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This was a lot of fun to catch up with again, over a decade after I first saw it.

The commentary on the DVD is outstanding, btw. In regard to the scene Peter mentions above, I believe Duvall had a lot of respect for the mysticism of that scene. When the girl in the passenger seat moves her arm, I believe he said something like, "These things happen all the time. They're real."

I also loved discovering that many of the preachers were real preachers, and in particular the tent preacher who walked around with the "keys to the kingdom" illustration. I said when I watched it that I found it amazing because it was too real to come from a simple script. Imagine my delight when I watched with the commentary and found out that, indeed, it was real, and not scripted.

I felt similarly, Stef, when I rewatched this over the summer after a few year hiatus - the big scenes (the final sermon) and little details (the 2 bickering ladies on the church bus, the man blowing his trumpet in the church service) still all added up to a moving, lovely film experience.

And aside from the church music that's thrown in, there is a lot of space that I very much appreciated. I have grown tired of methods of filmmaking which stuff an unnecessary score into every scene, jamming a story and actually taking me out of the story because I know the goal is to tug on the heart strings. I actually noticed the lack of a score here, which made the film quieter and more reflective. Then when we finally did get to the church songs, it was refreshing, and not stuffed.

Duvall has a great respect for these Bible belt pentacostals that he could have easily ripped on or satirized. That, too, is refreshing.


In an interstellar burst, I am back to save the Universe.

Filmsweep by Persona. 2013 Film Journal. IlPersona.

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Off of my holiday break and back to another Filmsweep Reaction:

I've said it a hundred times before and I'll likely say it again -- The A&F Top 100 is a great place to discover and rediscover forgotten or overlooked gems. The nominations are in for the 2011 list, and I've been trying to find nominations I haven't seen in order to be fair when I finally vote. I don't think anyone that votes sees every single film, but that's part of the fun -- when the community latches onto a favorite and it surprises you by ending up on the final list, you've got all the more reason to check out what you may have passed over in years past.

The Apostle sat at #19 on the 2010 list. After seeing it again recently, I hope it sits as high when we vote again today.

I remember being stirred by The Apostle when I found it on DVD in 1998, but I haven't seen it since. What I didn't remember was how solid the story really is, acted and edited together with brilliant precision. I also forgot that Robert Duvall wrote, directed and starred in the film as the flamboyant southern evangelist Sonny, later calling himself "Apostle E.F." when on the run from the law.

It's Sonny/E.F. that's on full display here. As a boy he grew up in tiny Pentecostal churches, where tongues are afire and dancing and shaking in the Spirit are the norm. Somewhere along the line as a boy he learned to regurgitate what was preached there. Early on, we see him as a teen, preaching like real-life evangelist/fake Marjoe Gortner to a crowd that wants to hear about the glories of heaven. Sometimes life on earth is so hard that we simply hope for a better place later on -- even if we need to die to get there.

Watching Sonny can be an excruciating experience for Pentecostal viewers. These kind hearted folks so believe in the healing of their salvation metamorphosis that they don't like to look at character flaws remaining unfixed. If you're not healed when you get up from the altar, there's obviously something wrong with you. There's certainly nothing wrong with God.

Sonny just doesn't fit well in this mode of thought. He's not an easy character to figure out. While he's no charlatan, like the previously mentioned Marjoe, he still has some sort of dark cloud that hangs over the joys of his walk with Jesus. He has a relationship with Jesus -- to the point of questioning Him when he doesn't understand, yelling at Him when he thinks He is wrong. Sonny's prayers sometimes come off like a boxing match with The Invisible.

His mom is amused when she hears him up all night in a heated, blistering fight with God. The neighbors call and ask her to shut him up. She smiles and hangs up. She has raised him to love, fear and boldly question this God. She's proud of the kid she has raised.

Even in the midst of these wrestling, tortured prayers, Sonny has a heart that wants to reach out to people. He believes that God can fix and heal the human heart. He loves building churches, he loves asking people to turn over their lives to Jesus. At times his love for the work is put in front of the love for his family, and perhaps this is why his wife gets caught up in an affair with their youth pastor -- or maybe Sonny has had similar adulterous problems, too, which pushed her into another lover's arms.

Whatever the reason, the affair pushes her out of Sonny's arms, maybe even out of his grip, and when she's absolutely done with the marriage, regardless of the kids, she watches in horror as Sonny puts the youth minister in the hospital. He may want to reach out and touch most people, but this guy, he wants to reach out and throttle. And in an early scene at a children's baseball game, he tears a hole into all of their lives.

Knowing he'll soon be arrested, Sonny goes on the run. He leaves his home state of Texas (perhaps one of the only places where it makes sense for a preacher to carry a gun), and ends up in a small swampish town in Louisiana. He finds a retired minister there and tells him he wants to build a new church. He jobs as a mechanic, then as a cook to make some quick cash and launch the new ministry on his heart. He changes his name to Apostle E.F., pastoring "The One Way Road To Heaven Holiness Temple." Local radio throws in tons of free air time -- he uses the airwaves for loud frenzied preaching, announcing the church's first Sunday.

At the first service, it seems lots of people have heard him on the radio. He's as entertaining as he is sincere. But no white people show up for their first service -- all the whites listening to him on the radio thought him certainly a black preacher launching a new black church.

E.F. meets a girl and practically begs to sleep with her after a date. He also pauses a church service to have a back yard brawl with a troubled local. He's not afraid of breaking certain small rules in order to accomplish a greater good. Morally, he's conflicted, but his obsession for The Lord and his persuasive confidence bring favor in the eyes of the congregation.

To say much more about Sonny or E.F. would be a great injustice to The Apostle. It's a film you need to see in order to believe and fall in love with. I wouldn't want to spoil anyone's viewing. But I will say this: It's rare to find a film in which redemption and justice walk away hand in hand as friends. That, is one of the greatest achievements in The Apostle. It's a feat in film that's hard to come by.

The use of non-actors (especially several real-life evangelists in full-motion Preach), the highly charged improvised scenes, the red-dirt deep southern fried chicken locations, and moments of quiet reflection or sizzling Pentecostal worship make The Apostle a richly rewarding film, one of great heights and downtrodden sorrow, where God is great but people aren't always, and joy is both celebrated and shredded in community.


In an interstellar burst, I am back to save the Universe.

Filmsweep by Persona. 2013 Film Journal. IlPersona.

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Off of my holiday break and back to another Filmsweep Reaction:

I've said it a hundred times before and I'll likely say it again -- The A&F Top 100 is a great place to discover and rediscover forgotten or overlooked gems. The nominations are in for the 2011 list, and I've been trying to find nominations I haven't seen in order to be fair when I finally vote.

Isn't voting closed? I thought it closed Monday, Jan 3.

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Off of my holiday break and back to another Filmsweep Reaction:

I've said it a hundred times before and I'll likely say it again -- The A&F Top 100 is a great place to discover and rediscover forgotten or overlooked gems. The nominations are in for the 2011 list, and I've been trying to find nominations I haven't seen in order to be fair when I finally vote.

Isn't voting closed? I thought it closed Monday, Jan 3.

Right, I actually posted the review yesterday.


In an interstellar burst, I am back to save the Universe.

Filmsweep by Persona. 2013 Film Journal. IlPersona.

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Jonathan Rosenbaum, in a review of James Benning's Four Corners, reminds me of something I had almost forgotten about this film:

I’ve been brooding a lot lately about the way in which many of the best movies around have been ravaged by “narrative correctness.” This is the notion fostered by producers, distributors, and critics — often collaborating as script doctors and always deeply invested in hackwork — that there are “correct” and “incorrect” ways of telling stories in movies. And woe to the filmmaker who steps out of line. Much as “political correctness” can point to a displaced political impotence — a desire to control language and representation that sets in after one despairs of changing the political conditions of power — “narrative correctness” has more to do with what supposedly makes a movie commercial than with what makes it interesting, artful, or innovative. Invariably narrative correctness means identifying with the people who pay for the pictures rather than with the people who make them.

Last year we had reviewers stomping on Jim Carrey in
The Cable Guy
and Tim Burton in
Mars Attacks!
for daring to move beyond their more lucrative formulas to try something different, though their crimes were crimes of subject and tone rather than of storytelling. This year filmmakers are more prone to be castigated and punished for perceived deficiencies in narrative fluidity. Chen Kaige’s
Temptress Moon
was a triumph of style and mood over story until Miramax decided that story was more important than either mood or style; it recut the film and added reams of explanatory titles — all to the end of clarifying the muddled plot. Now clear, the plot proved just as dull as it had been, but the hypnotic visual rhythms that had made the film special were destroyed. (It flopped anyway, so everyone lost.) Editor Walter Murch performed a similar, if far more sophisticated, job on Robert Duvall’s remarkable
The Apostle
(slated to open here next month, after showing in its original form at festivals in Toronto and New York). In both versions plot is the least interesting aspect, but after many reviewers complained — unjustifiably — that at 150 minutes it needed to be trimmed, Murch was called in to reduce it by 17 minutes. Once again visual style was sacrificed to narrative clarity. The characters and performances might have been enhanced in the process, and the results are arguably more commercial. But the awesome feeling for extended, multifaceted events in the long-take original has been diminished for the sake of individual incidents and bite-size plot points. Meanwhile, American and Iranian critics have been clamoring for Abbas Kiarostami to remove the sublime ending from his magnificent
Taste of Cherry
– even after it won the Palme d’Or at Cannes — presumably because the ending adds complexity and nuance to an experience they’d rather see simplified. (So far, Kiarostami has acquiesced in this mutilation at only a few venues in Italy, and he and the film’s U.S. distributor have assured me it won’t happen here. . . .)

Has the 17-minutes-longer version of The Apostle ever been screened anywhere, since Murch got his hands on it? Is there any chance of seeing it on a future DVD release, perhaps?


"Sympathy must precede belligerence. First I must understand the other, as it were, from the inside; then I can critique it from the outside. So many people skip right to the latter." -- Steven D. Greydanus
Now blogging at Patheos.com. I can also still be found at Facebook, Twitter and Flickr. See also my film journal.

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