First Reformed

First Reformed

In Theatres: 
Jun 01, 2018
Running Time: 
113 minutes

Writer-director Paul Schrader is no stranger to sending his characters down a path of self-destruction, usually in an act of heroism. Blue Collar, Affliction, and of course Taxi Driver all deal with this dichotomy between the good intentions of these people and the evil acts they commit. First Reformed is his latest film to go down that same path and explores the struggles of a local priest, played by Ethan Hawke, who must come to terms with his conflicting beliefs.

Reverend Ernst Toller (Hawke) is busy preparing for the 250th anniversary of his small Reform church when one of his parishioners, Mary (Amanda Seyfried), asks him to talk to her husband who has been acting strange around the house lately. Through their conversation, Reverend Toller learns of the husband’s radical ideas about environmentalism which leads him down a path to question his own beliefs and possibly turn away from his socially-defined faith in order to serve a greater good.

First Reformed is an intimate character drama that’s driven by a spectacular performance by Hawke. On the surface, Reverend Toller looks like your average priest just like Travis Bickle looked like your average taxi driver. He leads his sermon just like any other priest but once he gets behind closed doors you can see the pain deep within him as he constantly drinks and has difficulty sleeping. A running diary, narrated by Hawke, gives audiences access to his innermost thoughts, which can be far from priestly.

I will say that the film is extremely dense. The majority of scenes a rather simple and consist of just dialogue between two, sometimes even three, characters. Schrader has a laser focus when it comes to capturing these conversations, favoring longer cuts with little to no camera movement. There’s nothing flashy or distracting, allowing you to focus solely on the dialogue. I can see how some might find this particular style boring compared to the Hollywood blockbusters of today’s age, but Schrader’s attention to his craft along with the brilliant performances from the cast were absolutely captivating for me. The entirety of the film isn’t just dialogue though, so when something shocking does happen it sticks out immensely. By mostly staying small throughout, when Schrader does eventually go big is has more of an impact.

Whether you’re a fan of Paul Schrader’s previous films, written or directed, or want to see Ethan Hawke deliver one of the best performances of his career, First Reformed is well worth watching. It’s an unforgettable film that is far more complex and leveled than it appears.

Matt Rodriguez
Review by Matt Rodriguez
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