A minister of a small congregation in upstate New York grapples with mounting despair brought on by tragedy, worldly concerns and a tormented past.A minister of a small congregation in upstate New York grapples with mounting despair brought on by tragedy, worldly concerns and a tormented past.A minister of a small congregation in upstate New York grapples with mounting despair brought on by tragedy, worldly concerns and a tormented past.
Ethan Hawke's performance at the epicenter of this film really is a towering achievement. It's the kind of performance that will do down as not only one of the best of the year, but this will be remembered (most likely) as his career best. Ernst Toller is a man struggling internally with immense pain and turmoil. The loss of his only child has caused his marriage to fall apart so he has since turned to the Lord for whatever form of relief he can find. Nothing will ever take away that pain, but he's at least been able to somewhat cope with it over the years...though he has never really found true peace or happiness and has since turned to the bottle (like most men seem to) for solace. He writes in a journal every day as a form of self prayer or maybe just a way to put his ruinous thoughts down on paper instead of keeping them bottled up where they could potentially do more harm. A meeting with a local man one day where a multitude of different end-of-the-world topics are discussed ends up leading the Reverend down a rabbit-hole of immense consequences. All of which cause Toller to question his commitment to God and the Church. He's the pastor of a small local church that are all but extinct now and every city is being overrun with these massive churches. Faith has become a spectacle run by mostly phonies who only care about the bottom-line instead of the people and the close-knit community - another thing that frustrates him. Ethan Hawke is able to quietly walk this emotional tightrope the entire film and never allows him to fall into any histrionics. Amanda Seyfried takes on the important role of Mary (one of only 2 main female roles) and she delivers her best performance as well. Mary becomes a integral part of the Reverend's life as they're able to help each other through these difficult times...although it can be kinda hard to see what ways she really helps him. Cedric "The Entertainer" Kyles also shows up along the way as the pastor of the big conglomerate church who, despite good intentions, is probably doing more harm than good.
I feel like it really demands to be seen whether you're a person of faith or not. This is definitely not your typical Christian film and that's probably gonna upset a lot of people, but this one (and Schrader) have more lofty ideas and weighty themes on their mind. This is a very dense screenplay which leads to a heavy film that expects a lot from the audience. Paul Schrader isn't letting anyone off the hook easily here...he's being patient and letting the film open up at its own pace. This is also the kind of film that doesn't divulge all of its secrets in one sitting...it expects you to come back to it and soak it all in over multiple viewings - which with a film of this ilk you should probably do anyway.
Paul Schrader and company have created something wholly unique and special with 'First Reformed' and I think it's definitely something to be valued. So if you're in the mood for something a little different and don't mind your movies making you think, then please give it a chance!
- Jun 10, 2018