The Apostle

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The Apostle
Theatrical release poster
Directed byRobert Duvall
Written byRobert Duvall
Produced bySteven Brown
Rob Carliner
CinematographyBarry Markowitz
Edited byStephen Mack
Music byDavid Mansfield
Distributed byOctober Films
Release dates
  • September 6, 1997 (1997-09-06) (TIFF)
  • December 19, 1997 (1997-12-19) (United States)
Running time
134 minutes
CountryUnited States
Budget$5 million[1]
Box office$21.3 million[1]

The Apostle is a 1997 American drama film written and directed by Robert Duvall, who stars in the title role. John Beasley, Farrah Fawcett, Walton Goggins, Billy Bob Thornton, June Carter Cash, Miranda Richardson, and Billy Joe Shaver also appear. It was filmed on location in and around Saint Martinville and Des Allemands, Louisiana with some establishing shots done in the Dallas, Texas area. The majority of the film was shot in the Louisiana areas of Sunset and Lafayette.

The film was screened in the Un Certain Regard section at the 1998 Cannes Film Festival.[2] For his performance, Duvall was nominated for the Academy Award for Best Actor. The film won the Independent Spirit Award for Best Film for 1997.


Euliss F. "Sonny" Dewey is a charismatic Pentecostal preacher. His wife Jessie has begun an adulterous relationship with a youth minister named Horace. She refuses Sonny's desire to reconcile, although she assures him that she will not interfere with his right to see his children. She has also conspired to use their church's bylaws to have him removed from power. Sonny asks God what to do but receives no answer. Much of the congregation sides with Jessie in this dispute. Sonny, however, refuses to start a new church, insisting that the one which forced him out was "his" church. At his child's Little League game, Sonny, in an emotional and drunken fit, attacks Horace with a bat and puts him into a coma; Horace later dies.

A fleeing Sonny ditches his car in a river and gets rid of all identifying information. After destroying all evidence of his past, Sonny rebaptizes himself and anoints himself as "The Apostle E. F." He leaves Texas and ends up in the bayous of Louisiana, where he persuades a retired minister named Blackwell to help him start a new church. He works various odd jobs and uses the money to build the church, and to buy time to preach on a local radio station. Sonny also begins dating the station's receptionist.

With Sonny's energy and charisma, the church soon has a faithful and racially integrated flock. Sonny even succeeds in converting a racist construction worker who shows up at a church picnic intent on destruction. While at work in a local diner, Sonny sees his new girlfriend out in public with her husband and children, apparently reconciled. Sonny walks out, vowing never to return there.

Jessie hears a radio broadcast of the Apostle E. F. and calls the police on Sonny. The police show up in the middle of an evening service but allow Sonny to finish it while they wait outside. In the poignant finale, Sonny delivers an impassioned sermon before telling his flock that he has to go. In the final scene, Sonny, now part of a chain gang, preaches to the inmates as they work along the side of a highway.




Making The Apostle had been a longtime passion project for Duvall, who first wrote the script in 1984, but could not find a studio willing to produce it.[3][4] Duvall's interest in playing a preacher stemmed from an experience he had in the 1960s visiting a small Pentecostal chapel in Arkansas while doing research for an off-Broadway play. Said Duvall, "There was a certain simplicity and understanding. And also the feeling of the folklore. Preaching is one of the great American art forms. The rhythm, the cadence. And nobody knows about it except the preachers themselves."[3] After finding no interest from studios, he eventually decided to direct and finance the film himself.


The film was primarily shot in western Louisiana over a period seven weeks in the fall of 1996.[4][3] The fictional town of Bayou Boutte is actually a small town in Louisiana called Sunset. Some members of the supporting cast were actual churchgoers from the area.[5]


The film was first screened at the Toronto International Film Festival on September 6, 1997. In the middle of the screening, studio executives began leaving the theater to bid for distribution rights.[6] October Films won the bidding war and gained the distribution rights that night.[7][8]

The Apostle opened in limited release in North American theaters on December 19, 1997, eventually expanding nationwide through February and March 1998. It went on to gross $21.3 million worldwide, against a production budget of $5 million.[1]


The Apostle: Music from and Inspired by the Motion Picture
Soundtrack album by
ReleasedFebruary 10, 1998
Contemporary Christian
Southern Gospel
LabelRising Tide
ProducerRobert Duvall
Scott Greenstein
Professional ratings
Review scores

The score for The Apostle was scored by David Mansfield. Three songs, by country music artists Lyle Lovett, Patty Loveless, and contemporary Christian artist Steven Curtis Chapman, were recorded especially for the film. The song "There Ain't No Grave Gonna Hold My Body Down" was composed by Brother Claude Ely.[10][11]

The soundtrack won the 1998 Grammy Award for Best Southern, Country, or Bluegrass Gospel Album.[12]

The songs, "I Will Not Go Quietly" by Chapman, "Two Coats" by Loveless and "I'm a Soldier in the Army of the Lord" by Lovett were released on a soundtrack album that was supplemented with more exclusive songs "inspired by" (but not included in) the film.

Track listing[edit]

1."I Will Not Go Quietly" (Steven Curtis Chapman)3:46
2."Two Coats" (Patty Loveless)3:21
3."I'm a Soldier in the Army of the Lord" (Lyle Lovett)3:29
4."Softly and Tenderly" (Rebecca Lynn Howard)3:05
5."There Is a River" (Gaither Vocal Band)4:24
6."In the Garden" (Johnny Cash)3:16
7."I Love to Tell the Story" (Emmylou Harris and Robert Duvall)3:45
8."Waitin' on the Far Side Banks of Jordan" (Carter Family)3:15
9."Victory Is Mine" (Sounds of Blackness)3:32
10."There is Power in the Blood" (Lari White)5:19
11."There Ain't No Grave Gonna Hold My Body Down" (Russ Taff)4:54
12."I'll Fly Away" (Gary Chapman and Wynonna Judd)3:47
13."Soft and Tenderly (Reprise)" (Dino Kartsonakis)4:37
Total length:50:30

Chart performance[edit]

Chart (1998) Peak
U.S. Billboard Top Christian Albums 4
U.S. Billboard Top Country Albums[13] 21
U.S. Billboard 200[13] 175


The film has an 88% approval rating on the review aggregator Rotten Tomatoes, based on 51 reviews, with an average score of 8/10. The consensus summarizes: "A nuanced sermon on the contradictions of faith as well as a blistering showcase for its director and star, The Apostle will leave audiences evangelizing the immensity of Robert Duvall's talent."[14]

Critic Roger Ebert gave it four out of four stars and called the film "a lesson in how movies can escape from convention and penetrate the hearts of rare characters."[15] Lisa Schwarzbaum of Entertainment Weekly gave the film an A− grade and described it as "a seamless match of strong artistic vision and physical performance", with "the Oscar-winning star of Tender Mercies [drawing] on more than three decades of experience personifying the hard contours and bruised souls of American men to create a fearless and fascinating piece of work."[5]

American theologian Harvey Cox said, "It's the most explicit treatment of evangelical religious sensibility I've seen. One is stunned by Duvall's performance. But beyond that, it is a film about sin and redemption, something Dostoevskian, deeply theological, not churchy. It's in-your-face theology."[16] The Christian Science Monitor noted how the film dealt with the subject of race as it "presents the Christian message as universal, extending to all races and classes."[16]

Awards and nominations[edit]

The Apostle garnered numerous awards and nominations from major awards organizations. At the 70th Academy Awards, Duvall was nominated for Best Actor.[17] The film won the awards for Best Film, Best Male Lead, and Best Director at the 13th Independent Spirit Awards.[18] Miranda Richardson and Farrah Fawcett were also both nominated for Best Supporting Female at the Independent Spirit Awards.[19]

In addition, Duvall won the awards for Best Actor from the Chicago Film Critics Association,[20] Florida Film Critics,[21] Las Vegas Film Critics Society,[22] Los Angeles Film Critics Association,[23] New York Film Critics Circle,[24] the National Society of Film Critics,[25] Society of Texas Film Critics,[26] and the Satellite Awards.[27] Duvall was nominated for a Screen Actors Guild Award for Best Actor[28] and an Un Certain Regard Award at the 1998 Cannes Film Festival.[29]


  1. ^ a b c "The Apostle (1997) - Financial Information". The Numbers.
  2. ^ "Festival de Cannes: The Apostle". Retrieved October 3, 2009.
  3. ^ a b c Freedman, Samuel G. (October 22, 1997). "Duvall's Battle to Confound a Religious Stereotype". The New York Times. Retrieved November 29, 2022.
  4. ^ a b Goldstein, Patrick (March 18, 1998). "Gospel Truth". Los Angeles Times. Archived from the original on November 20, 2022. Retrieved November 29, 2022.
  5. ^ a b Schwarzbaum, Lisa (December 19, 1997). "The Apostle". Entertainment Weekly. Retrieved November 22, 2022.
  6. ^ Thompson, Kristin (1999). Storytelling in the New Hollywood: Understanding Classical Narrative Technique (1st ed.). Harvard University Press. p. 343. ISBN 978-0-67-483975-5.
  7. ^ Schneider, Howard (September 10, 1997). "Toronto's Film Fest Drives 'Em Wild". The Washington Post. Retrieved November 29, 2022.
  8. ^ Johnson, Brian D. (January 23, 2012). "Sundance mourns indie film champ Bingham Ray". Maclean's. Retrieved November 29, 2022.
  9. ^ Owens, Thom. The Apostle at AllMusic
  10. ^ "Brother Claude Ely - Photos & Music". Archived from the original on November 19, 2007. Retrieved November 29, 2022.
  11. ^ The Apostle soundtrack. Executive producers Robert Duvall and Scott Greenstein. Rising Tide. 1998.
  12. ^ "41st Annual GRAMMY Awards | 1998". Retrieved January 25, 2023.
  13. ^ a b Flippo, Chet (March 21, 1998). "Universal Closes Rising Tide". Billboard. Vol. 110, no. 12. p. 10.
  14. ^ "The Apostle". Rotten Tomatoes. Flixster. Retrieved September 20, 2023.
  15. ^ Ebert, Roger (January 30, 1998). "The Apostle Movie Review and Film Summary (1998)". Ebert Digital LLC. Retrieved June 2, 2013.
  16. ^ a b Marquand, Robert (February 5, 1998). "'The Apostle' Rewrites How Religion Is Depicted on Big Screen". Christian Science Monitor. ISSN 0882-7729. Retrieved November 29, 2022.
  17. ^ "The 70th Academy Awards". Retrieved November 29, 2022.
  18. ^ Welkos, Robert W. (March 22, 1998). "'Apostle' Takes Top Honors at Independent Spirit Awards". Los Angeles Times. Retrieved November 29, 2022.
  19. ^ "1998 Nominees" (PDF). Film Independent. p. 42. Retrieved November 29, 2022.
  20. ^ "1988-2013 Award Winner Archives". Chicago Film Critics Association. January 2013. Retrieved November 29, 2022.
  21. ^ Persall, Steve (January 6, 1998). "'Titanic' tops with Florida critics". Tampa Bay Times. Retrieved November 29, 2022.
  22. ^ "Las Vegas Film Critics Society Sierra Award Winners". Retrieved November 29, 2022.
  23. ^ Kronke, David (December 14, 1997). "'L.A. Confidential' Gets L.A. Top Critics' Award". Los Angeles Times. Retrieved November 29, 2022.
  24. ^ Maslin, Janet (December 12, 1997). "'L.A. Confidential' Wins Critics Circle Award". The New York Times. ISSN 0362-4331. Retrieved November 29, 2022.
  25. ^ "Past Awards". National Society of Film Critics. December 19, 2009. Retrieved November 29, 2022.
  26. ^ "Texas critics honor 'Sweet Hereafter'". The Dallas Morning News. January 2, 1998. Archived from the original on October 24, 2012. Retrieved November 29, 2022.
  27. ^ "1998 2nd Annual SATELLITE™ Awards". International Press Academy. Archived from the original on February 1, 2008. Retrieved November 29, 2022.
  28. ^ "Screen Actors Guild". The Washington Post. March 8, 1998. ISSN 0190-8286. Retrieved November 29, 2022.
  29. ^ "1998 Cannes Film Festival Lineup". IndieWire. April 23, 1998. Retrieved November 29, 2022.

External links[edit]