This film was very much a personal project and great labor of love for it's writer, director, executive producer, and star Robert Duvall. Not onlt that, but it is an excellent film and a tremendous character study that is deeply moving and powerful. There are non-Pentecostal Christians (and even some atheists) who love and enjoy this film. That really says something.
The story concerns a devout and fired up southern Pentecostal preacher from Dallas named "Sonny" Dewey whose life falls apart, and he deals with it in not the best way for a man of his sort. He then leaves his old life behind and reinvents himself in the town of Bayou Boutte, Louisiana as the Apostle E F as he goes on a quest to rebuild his life and find redemption.
As a filmmaker, Duvall isn't bad. I mean, given how long he'd been in the business, it figures that he should have some sort of knowledge about the craft of filmmaking. That said though, the film is not perfect. It has a generous run time, and some of the scenes are really stretched out. What he lacks in strong narrative skills he makes up for with a brilliant performance and some terrific mise-en-scene. Even though it does run long, the dragged out scenes allow for more breathing room for the characters and themes.
Besides Duvall, the film is filled with many terrific performances from professionals and nonprofessionals alike. Beasley has a great rapport with Duvall as a fellow preacher who helps him get his new life going, and Goggins, despite maybe getting a too melodramatic towards the end, is also quite fine. Fawcett, Richardson, Thornton and Cash all deliver some important (though briefer than others) supporting parts as well. The actors all embody their characters well, and help due justice to the world being portrayed here.
I myself am a Catholic, but have a friend who is from the same world as Sonny. He has told me several times that he loves this movie, and that it gives a very accurate and fair portrayal of these types of people and believers. Having witnessed stuff like this for myself (despite my Catholicism), I can believe it. This film, though taking a side, presents these types of preachers and their congregations in a realistic, sensible, and three-dimensional manner.
The music, cinematography, all the sets, costumes, and setting are great, and this film is excellent entertainment. It has a great and powerful message, and presents some fascinating material in a way which encourages belief instead of mocking or condemning it. Definitely go out and give this a watch.