The Naked and the Dead Boring
On the official site for The Apostle (starring Robert Duvall, Farrah Fawcett, Miranda Richardson), a flashing Java script alerts the visitor to all the four-star reviews the film has received from premier newspapers, the “two thumbs up” it garnered from Siskel & Ebert, and the fact that “over 75 top critics” call The Apostle “one of the best films of the year.”
I stand here today to say, “The emperor has no clothes!”
I will be the first to admit that I have some serious problems with religion in general and Christianity in particular, and my initial instinct might have been to tell myself that I was bored to tears by The Apostle because it is loaded with evangelical preaching.
But wait — the two friends I saw the film with differ in their beliefs from me and from each other, and they were just as bored as I was. And I’ve enjoyed other films that were unabashedly Christian in outlook — The Black Robe and Jesus of Montreal come immediately to mind.
End of disclaimer.
The problem I had with The Apostle was that Sonny Dewey (Duvall), the character the film focuses on, is not compelling enough to carry two-plus hours of movie. Important points of character sneak by without explanation. For instance, Dewey refers to God’s returning him from the dead as a child, and then says nothing more of it. Now, returning from the dead is kinda a big deal. Is Dewey speaking figuratively of being “saved,” or did some actual miraculous rescue occur? We never find out.
I may be faithless, but make me believe in a character’s faith, and I’m with you. I never bought into Dewey’s devoutness. In fact, I found Dewey completely unsympathetic — reptilian, even — but unsavory characters can make for an interesting movie (see my take on Traveller). Not here.
Various articles and reviews about The Apostle (including this one) have indicated that Robert Duvall — who also wrote, directed, and produced — wanted to make a realistic depiction of a Christian, as neither a saint nor a fool but weak, flawed human. Fair enough, but Dewey is beyond “flawed” — he terrorizes his wife (Fawcett) and commits murder without any obvious guilt. When he goes on the lam and ends up founding a congregation in rural Louisiana, he gathers followers purely on the basis of his supposed charisma — a charisma I simply did not feel.
The most galling scene features a cameo by Billy Bob Thornton as a racist yahoo who is converted on the spot by Duvall. Since we don’t know anything about Thornton’s character, we have no basis for believing his conversion — he’s just nasty one moment, and saved the next. Say what?
And let me get on my soapbox once more about men’s problems with women of a certain age. Dewey’s mother is played by June Carter Cash — who is a mere 19 months older than Robert Duvall. Dewey’s wife is played by Farrah Fawcett — at 52, fifteen years younger than the 67-year-old Duvall. When Dewey leaves his wife, he tries to hook up with Toosie, played by Miranda Richardson — 27 years younger. I don’t think it’s unfair to lob all this wish-fulfillment right in the lap of Duvall — after all, he did write, direct, and produce.
Maybe it’s me. Can all those critics be wrong?