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Gripping and intensely focused, First Reformed is Paul Schrader’s latest character study of male self-destruction and redemption. Haunted by the ghost of Taxi Driver, it stands as the culmination of a writing/directing career studded with God’s lonely men – and one of Schrader’s most personal films in decades.
A terrific Ethan Hawke cuts a stern, troubled figure as Toller, a Protestant minister of a tiny congregation overshadowed by a nearby populist church. His internal and spiritual despair – rivetingly chronicled in Schrader’s powerful script – begins to seep out into the unforgiving world upon meeting Mary (Amanda Seyfried) and her husband Michael, a distraught environmental activist whose salvation lies in a suicide vest.
As Toller’s dwindling faith and growing political rage points ostensibly towards an explosive final act, Schrader’s artistry, heavily indebted to his cinematic heroes Carl Dreyer and Robert Bresson, beautifully counteracts the violent pathos of his most iconic screen antiheroes. At once austere and electrifying, First Reformed is directed with startling simplicity and profundity; a bravely un-American film by one of the great American filmmakers. — Tim Wong
“First Reformed [is] the writer/director’s best work in a very long time. The writer of Taxi Driver [and] Raging Bull… is having a crisis of faith, examining personal issues of religion in a way that he hasn’t done in a very long time, and doing so in a style that feels very European… It’s the kind of work of art that seems like it could inspire fantastic conversation. We need more movies like it.” — Brian Tallerico, RogerEbert.com