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by Jim Wunderle

"The Apostle"

Directed by: Robert Duvall

Starring: Robert Duvall, Farrah Fawcett

Rated: R

I've never really thought of Robert Duvall as an "actor," and I mean that in the kindest sense.

From his Boo Radley in "To Kill a Mockingbird," to consigliari Tom Hagen in "The Godfather" films, to his Oscar- winning role as Max Sledge in "Tender Mercies," Duvall has always just seemed so "real." He's simply one of the finest actors working in film today.

Duvall has also directed a few things, most notably the critically acclaimed "Angelo, My Love," in 1983.

With his latest film, "The Apostle," Duvall broke one of Hollywood's hard-and-fast rules. He actually put up his own money (about $5 million) for a film he wrote, directed, produced and starred in.

"The Apostle" is getting rave reviews and has garnered Duvall some well-deserved Oscar nominations. While this is surely the "comeback year" for big studio films "Titanic" is going to sweep the awards in my humble opinion "The Apostle" ranks with the great "little" movies that Hollywood has paid attention to of late.

Films such as "Slingblade" and "The Full Monty" (which is up for best picture this year) have proven that a good story can still win out over the clich?d special-effects pieces that have become Hollywood's meal ticket.

OK, OK ... I know everyone has to eat ... but every now and then it's nice to have something besides junk food. That's where this film come into play.

Duvall's labor of love, "The Apostle," is quite a fine cinematic meal, and one that breaks a few "rules" here and there.

In the first few minutes I thought I had it all summed up, but was pleasantly surprised to be (just slightly) off the mark.

While the film will make you think of various and sundry religious scandals of the recent past Jim Bakker, Jimmy Swaggert, Robert Schuller et al. it never goes to such obvious territory.

In short, Duvall is more interested in telling a real story than in telling a story we all already know, or think we know.

With "The Apostle," he does so quite effectively.

In the film he plays Euliss "Sonny" Dewey, a Pentecostal minister who is absolutely absorbed with the Holy Spirit. He's also absorbed with the workings of the flesh, and after committing a very violent sin, he goes on the road seeking redemption.

He starts a new church, wins a multitude of followers, and tries to come to terms with his own actions and what he believes to be his unwavering Almighty.

The story never becomes pass?, and Duvall deserves credit for sticking to his beliefs (he shopped the film around for more than 10 years and every studio turned him down) to get this picture made.

In an era of big-budget mega-productions, "The Apostle" is what's known as a "small" film. It really only made it to Springfield because of the Oscar nominations. I'm not really a big believer in awards, but I guess they can help a film get wider notice, and this film deserves this kind of treatment.

There aren't many new movies I can recommend more highly, and any awards "The Apostle" receives will be justly deserved.

(Jim Wunderle works at Associated Video Producers and is a Springfield free-lance writer and musician.)

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