February 3, 1998 [The Apostle]

Robert Duvall in The Apostle writes himself a showboat character--but man he is a master, and layers subtleties and complexities that keep his Sonny from becoming too easy--and it would be tempting to play him as a Bible-thumping slick-hick hypocrite who grins and wheedles and blusters and rages his way in and out of dangerous places.  But Duvall makes sure that Sonny doesn't get away from him; Sonny is more than a little crazy--his mind always racing, his mania for repetitions and mumbled monologues and conversations with Jesus trapping him in Duvall's hands like a nervous bird.

And Duvall gets this jumpin-jivin preacher-on-the-lam to behave, to open the gates of sweetness and joy, of forgiveness and mercy--ladled on top of the loud resolve of any American entrepreneur trying to make a go of it, be his own boss--while a Bigger Boss stands by, waiting for Sonny to build his church so that He can knock the temple down and clear a path for--I'm not sure what; at the best, perhaps, a tender pity (that scene with Billy Bob Thornton and his unmoving earth-mover will stay with me for a long time) that sparks out of Sonny's mad eyes and makes him seem a better man.

--No, maybe he's not better--maybe it's the poor souls in his church who reap something more than Sonny could ever sow.  Duvall's Savior is riddled with hairline cracks that are bound to give way--but each piece might work as a relic, tucked into my pocket, a rabbit's foot for life's sudden shocks like cops that show up in the yard with their lights circling and striking my face as I stand and wait.


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