Title: First Reformed
Director: Paul Schrader
Starring: Ethan Hawke, Amanda Seyfried, Victoria Hill
Runtime: 1 hr 53 min
What It Is: A psychological drama in which the sick Reverend Toller (Hawke) faces an event involving a young pregnant woman (Seyfried) that challenges his faith in his church’s establishment and in himself as the world seems to be crumbling around him.
What We Think: Paul Schrader is a writer-director icon, known for works such as Raging Bull and Taxi Driver. To say the least, the newest addition to his filmography does not disappoint, nor does it surprise me that Schrader turned out to be behind all of it (as I made sure to go into watching this movie completely cold). In a quietly outstanding and strange presentation full of fascinating implications (by which I, of course, pertain to the boxy aspect ratio yet triangular sort of depth to the visual composition), this makes for a cold and bleak watch. Its tone and writing are successfully contemplative, evoking helplessness and a worldly dread. The performances are good—but Hawke’s is great, in a role that is subtle yet blooms. The cinematography is at times plain, but intentionally so as it stays competent and focused. It feels sort of classic and old school and is, for those means, comforting. In all other means—it can be quite discomforting as it is enveloped in a chilling, ambient score and often handles the subject of sanity under the pressure of corruption and illness in ways that come unexpectedly.
Our Grade: A-, Though its duration may be a bit of a challenge for some viewers, I found myself enjoying how the plot unfolded and events transpired. It’s a dark, moody, and intelligent film about hypocrisy and guilt, which always makes for a good time and sufficient food for thought. For you cinephiles, I would very much recommend this. Just let it wash over you.