Paul Schrader has returned with First Reformed, an understated but extremely powerful tale of a man in doubt of his own longstanding beliefs as the world rapidly changes around him.
Ethan Hawke plays Toller, a pastor spiralling in a crisis of faith, going about his weekly tasks and sermons at the First Reformed church while also questioning his own beliefs in private introspection, accompanied by copious amounts of alcohol and Pepto Bismol. After local churchgoer Mary (Amanda Seyfried) asks him to counsel her husband, Michael, who despairs at the effect of climate change, he too begins to uncontrollably obsess over the fate of the earth, and the uncaring nature of the people around him whose connections to the church would supposedly mean that they should care.
First Reformed is quiet yet urgent, a film for the present that encapsulates the gap between old and new attitudes towards the relationship between religion and science. The struggle to make those in power care about what kind of world they leave behind for the next generation is clear in Schrader’s montage sequences and critique of the big business of the church.
It’s no wonder that Toller’s faith is fragile, hanging in the balance as he debates his beliefs to himself in his diary. His thoughts become increasingly entangled and this is reflected in the film as his moral compass swings to and fro, resulting in a chilling, almost inevitable final act that sees Toller’s faith pushed to the limits.
Schrader has created an arresting film that tackles some morally complex topics that will probably remain relevant for as long as the earth exists. Mixed in with an outstanding performance from Ethan Hawke, First Reformed is a truly stunning film that can only get better on repeat viewings.
CAST: Ethan Hawke, Amanda Seyfried, Cedric the Entertainer, Victoria Hill, Philip Ettinger
WRITER: Paul Schrader
DIRECTOR: Paul Schrader
SYNOPSIS: A priest of a small congregation in upstate New York grapples with mounting despair brought on by tragedy, worldly concerns and a tormented past.