First Reformed

Paul Schrader's powerfully disconcerting morality film First Reformed will no doubt prompt audiences to question their most grounding beliefs -- and that is what make this puzzling picture so captivating and disturbing. With glacial pacing and a level of interiority that is not often seen in contemporary cinematic narratives, First Reformed stars Ethan Hawke in a part that will garner him nominations and maybe statuary come awards season. Hawke is the addled and alcoholic minister of a "museum church" in Albany, where he maintains an ascetic existence and appears to be slowly succumbing to lung disease. His ministry, such as it is, brings him in contact with a congregant (Amanda Seyfried) and her environmental activist husband (Phillip Ettinger) and a crisis that spins them and Hawke's character out of their orbits and into conflict with a church leader (a refreshingly measured Cedric "the Entertainer" Kyles) and a powerful local businessman (Michael Gaston). My favorite Schrader films (American Gigolo, Hardcore, Affliction) all involved characters beset by extraordinary circumstances and their own natures. Hawke's Reverend Toller struggles with faith in his God and fellow man, and we find ourselves pulling for him despite our own natures and better judgments.


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