By: Movie Snurb (A Toast) –
Ethan Hawke is a reverend for a small church that is really just a museum/gift shop any more with a minimal amount of people attending each Sunday. Instead, they go to a large church that supports the small church. One day Reverend Toller [Hawke] is approached by Mary [Amanda Seyfried] and she asks him to talk with her significant other, an environmental activist who is becoming more and more fundamentalist by the minute. This sends Toller on a further spiral of despair started as we learn after he lost his son to war, his wife to divorce, and as he starts to suspect that he’s slowly dying of cancer. It’s a dark film, but one that’ll stick with you.
Paul Schrader really knows how to write a dark film with an ambiguous ending that will leave you thinking for days. This film stands out from Taxi Driver because it felt like this film was Paul Schrader’s inner monologue about his religious guilt over whether we will be punished for what we are doing to this beautiful earth and whether it’s worth staying with a certain religious discipline. It never comes off as preachy or as if the audience is to come away from this film and want to plant more tress and recycle more. I don’t want to say too much about this film because its ending will divide audiences and leave everyone thinking. However, yes, we should be doing what we can for the environment but also love what you have. This world is harsh and punishing; find the things that make you happy and hold on to them.
The acting is brilliant, Seyfried is amazing, being simultaneously nurturing, sad, and scared. Cedric Kyles [Cedric the Entertainer] is surprisingly great in a serious turn as a big time TV pastor who seems to care more about the money rather than the word of God. However, it’s Ethan Hawke who owns this film. This is quite possibly his greatest acting turn as a conflicted reverend who steadily loses his faith in everything. Hawke truly disappears into this role. It’s not a loud role, but Hawke is able to command the screen in every scene. It’s a performance that deserves an Oscar nomination, but probably won’t get one because it’s too small of a film.
The cinematography is also just as brilliant. It’s aspect ratio is that of A Ghost Story, and it makes the film feel small and intimate. Because of this the film captures a beauty in a dark world that would seem bleak and gray through any other camera lens. It was a smart choice because the film is already small, but this style gives it a real feel, making it all the more moving and brutally honest.
Paul Schrader delivers another smart, dark, honest, and somewhat terrifying story about religion, the environment, faith, and questions it all. If Schrader wrote Taxi Driver today, this is exactly what it’d looked like. I recommend everyone see this film at least once for brilliant writing, acting, cinematography, and how it makes you think about life. Will God forgive us?
First Reformed (2018) Drinking Game
Do a Shot: every time Toller questions his faith.
Do a Shot: every time Toller drinks.
Take a Drink: for every powerful image.
Take a Drink: every time the film feels too honest.
Then recycle all of your bottles to help out mother earth.