Sonny, a Pentacostal preacher spends too much time away from home and finds his wife is having an affair. After violently avenging this betrayal he flees in shame to Louisiana where he re-establishes an old church.
Independently produced by Duvall himself, who also found time to write, direct and garner a Best Actor Oscar nomination, this is an enthralling look at the oft-imitated but rarely studied world of evangelism.
Duvall stars as Texan "Sonny", a charismatic Pentecostal preacher whose celebrity keeps him too long away from his wife and fellow church member (Fawcett). When she has an affair with a younger preacher (Todd Allen) and forces Sonny not only out of the church he helped to set up, but also apart from the two children he loves, he tempers his rage with his faith until one day he lamps his rival in the face with a baseball bat. Sonny, you see, may be a man of god but he's no angel.
Wracked with guilt, he flees to Louisiana to start a new life and does so as a self-baptised apostle, arriving at a poor black bayou backwater community. There, with help from a tiny radio station and a retired preacher, Sonny sets about re-establishing an old church, using a mixture of his "Holy Ghost power" and his practical skills as a mechanic.
Therein lies the film's strength. Nothing can make an agnostic squirm like full-on religion but by loading his central character with lay weaknesses as well as spiritual strengths, Duvall invests the near-documentary style film with an everyman appeal. Preaching, his power is a match for anything Linda Blair displayed in The Exorcist. Away from the church, he is as vulnerable as a child. He ranges from fire and brimstone to phoning home to learn his mother is dying, to trying to woo Toosie (the brilliant Richardson, as Texan as cow pie). Rising above sparkling turns from non-actors, Country singers and Billy Bob Thornton as a racist bigot out to destroy his new church, Duvall's is a spellbinding performance that even the most miserable sinner won't fail to be converted by.
The film's strength lies in its central character's very weaknesses, making it a subtle and complex almost documentary-style piece.