FIRST REFORMED (15)
D: Paul Schrader
A24/Killer Films/Omeira Studios/Big Indie/Arclight/Fibonacci (Jack Binder, Greg Clark, Victoria Hill, Gary Hamilton, Deepak Sikka, Christine Vachon, David Hinojosa & Frank Murray)
USA 🇺🇸 2017 [released 2018]
W: Paul Schrader
DP: Alexander Dynan
Ed: Benjamin Rodriguez, Jr.
Ethan Hawke (Ernst Toller), Amanda Seyfried (Mary Mensana), Cedric Kyles (Joel Jeffers), Victoria Hill (Esther), Philip Ettinger (Michael Mensana)
It cannot be denied that Ethan Hawke delivers an excellent acting performance in First Reformed, and while his work didn't result in what would have been a deserved Oscar nomination for Best Actor, he practically swept the board on the awards circuit from film critics groups. Unfortunately, Paul Schrader's little seen sombre drama may have been a little too low-key to sway the Academy voters.
Hawke plays church pastor Ernst Toller, a haunted Protestant minister who serves the First Reformed church, an old-fashioned parish which serves more as a tourist attraction and place of local history rather than a building of worship. The film opens with Toller penning a journal, and it emerges that he is wrestling with his faith, and the journal has become a substitute for prayer following the death of his son in military service. As well as preventing his churchgoers from migrating to a newer, more modernised parish, Toller helps a young pregnant woman whose husband is also dealing with issues of morality.
Paul Schrader, who also wrote the screenplay for Taxi Driver, does try to demonstrate a man fighting his own demons in a cinematic way, but the film is very slow and a little too arty for general audiences to find interest in.
The screenplay was nominated for an Oscar, surprisingly the first of Schrader's long career, but it really should have been Ethan Hawke who earned such plaudits.