Mimsy Were the Borogoves

Movie and DVD Reviews: The best and not-so-best movies available on DVD, and whatever else catches my eye.

Mimsy Review: The Apostle

Reviewed by Jerry Stratton, August 15, 2000

You going to heaven. I’m going to jail, you going to heaven.

Special features

Cast Information5
Commentary Track8
Making Of5
Music Video4
Production Notes6

Robert Duvall is a “holiness preacher” in Texas and Louisiana. With wonderful performances by Duvall, Farrah Fawcett, Billy Bob Thornton, June Carter Cash, Miranda Richardson, and a number of “found” actors, this movie is not to be missed.

RecommendationPossible Purchase
DirectorRobert Duvall
WriterRobert Duvall
Movie Rating8
Transfer Quality7
Overall Rating8
  • Letterbox

I rented this movie as part of Kozmo.Com’s “beta test” here in San Diego. They were fast! I went to their web site at about 6:25, and the web site still listed “6:30 to 7:30” as an available time slot. So I chose it, and sure enough, at about 6:50 I got a knock on the door. They win points for that. They lose, however, with the three-day rental period. Even Hollywood Video and Blockbuster Video rent for five days now, and they also have 24-hour returns. If Kozmo wants people to rent more than one video at a time, and also be able to return them reasonably, they need a longer period of time. (Of the three “drop off locations” listed, only one is a reasonable walk to drop off a movie, and it is only open until 10 PM. I’m still watching the movie at 10!)

End of digression. This is a great movie. According to the liner notes, when it was brought to the Toronto Film Festival, a distribution deal was struck thirty minutes into the film’s viewing. I can see why. It’s a powerful film with powerful acting. The majority of the roles are played by normal people specifically cast for their part. The “preaching” scenes use real “holiness preachers,” even the “tag-team” preaching scene towards the beginning of the film.

Duvall called it “the most important time of my life.” He not only wrote, directed, and starred, he put up the money to green light it.

The Apostle” is the story of E.F. “Sonny” Dewie, a “holiness preacher” since he was about twelve, as he falls apart on losing his wife and church, and his attempt to redeem himself for his sins. The story culminates in a long, incredible sermon to his new flock.

The DVD comes with a number of extras. There is a video by Steven Curtis Chapman, of his song “I Will Not Go Quietly”. The song is a bit forgettable (I don’t even remember where it shows up in the film), but is preceded by a nice bit with Chapman explaining how he became involved with the film.

“The Journey of the Apostle” is a “making of” thirty-minute documentary. In a nice touch, the documentary is subtitled in English, French and Spanish just like the movie is! However, a significant portion of the “making of” is taken directly from the director’s commentary. There is some original information there, but I think most of Duvall’s statements come from his commentary.

The commentary is one of the better ones I’ve heard. A lot of the actors were not actors, but were chosen specifically for their roles, from local churches and even from a hardware store. Duvall remembers them all, where they came from and how they were to work with. At a few points he talks about how people always ask how he directed the kids, and his answer is always that you can’t, you just let them act naturally. “We’re all kids playing house for a pretty big salary.”

He talks about the motivations for just about everything, and the motivations are rooted in his own experiences with friends and churches he’s visited. Once a black man who is unsure of Duvall’s character is very kind to the vagabond preacher, but still sleeps with a rifle in his bed just in case. In discussing the reasoning behind that, one of the things he says in passing is that James Earl Jones told him he was an NRA member, and that “blacks have to keep weapons in the south, too”. (Interestingly, I did a search on “James Earl Jones” and NRA and it is amazing how many people start off editorials with a quote from James Earl Jones and then inside the editorial bash the NRA…)

Throughout all of the extras, and especially in the commentary, Duvall talks about how he wanted to show respect for preaching, instead of going with the film industry’s habit of “patronizing the preaching world”. Many, if not most, of the “good” lines from E.F.’s preaching comes from real preachers, and he mentions them all during the commentary.

At the end of the commentary, he says “Well, I hope you enjoyed it. I enjoyed making it.”

It was a wonderful commentary; the only real problem I have with it is a technical one for new users. When you choose the commentary in the “Bonus” menu, the menu changes to the “language selection” menu, instead of staying where it is or switching to the movie. This can be confusing for those who don’t recognize that as far as the computer is concerned, a commentary track is just another language.

There are two sets of production notes with this DVD: the printed notes on a 4-page fold-out, with photos, and a text-only 7-screen text presentation on the DVD. Both are interesting, and talk a little more about the guerilla nature of making the movie and finding actors and extras.

“The extras in the church scene knew what to do without being told. I avoided saying ‘action’ for every take because we wanted the scenes to be an extension of life. We kept the atmosphere loose and relaxed, and even though we had a script, we considered nothing precious.”

There is also a “cast info” section. Duvall is listed twice, with different text as director and as actor.

Note that while I am reviewing the Universal “collector’s edition” that Kozmo.Com had available for rental, I’ve linked to the currently available USA version. They appear to be exactly the same. While the USA version doesn’t list the same extras on Amazon as the old Universal version listed, the Universal didn’t actually have those: there were no deleted scenes, for example.

I strongly recommend this movie. If you haven’t seen it, you should rent it. If you have seen it, you should rent it or purchase it. If you’re a fan of either the movie or Duvall, you’ll definitely want to hear his commentary about the movie.

Recommendation: Possible Purchase

DirectorRobert Duvall
WriterRobert Duvall
ActorRobert Duvall
Spoken languageEnglish
SubtitlesEnglish, French, Spanish
Special FeaturesCast Information, Commentary Track, Making Of, Music Video, Production Notes, Trailer
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