‘Will God forgive us for what we’re doing to his creation?‘
Legendary screenwriter Paul Schrader is perhaps best known for his work on Raging Bull and Taxi Driver. Travis Bickle from the latter movie has always been a warning of what happens when the world slips into alienation and degradation. First Reformed takes these concepts (through the prism of the clergy and climate change) and turns them into something dangerous and beautiful…
Father Toller (Ethan Hawke) is a disillusioned protestant minister who must console one of his flock (Amanda Seyfried) when tragedy strikes their small community. Meanwhile, Toller’s church hopes to celebrate it’s 250th anniversary.
I’ve never been much of a fan of Hawke, or his work. I found the Before trilogy to be self indulgent and, quite frankly, a little annoying, and aside from his good work in Sinister, he’s an actor I’ve never really warmed to. And yet… he’s genuinely wonderful here, delivering a thought provoking and transformative turn in the role of the trouble protagonist. Toller is not as clearly on edge as Travis Bickle, instead Hawke masterfully keep’s Toller’s loneliness and rage bubbling under the surface in a performance that should have been rewarded with a Best Actor nod at the Oscars. That snub was partly offset by Schrader’s nomination for Best Screenplay, but First Reformed deserved so much more.
I watched this film the day after A Ghost Story in a kind of existential, metaphysical double bill, and while this made for a heavy couple of days, it kind of works as a double bill. Both films are intelligent, measured character studies, both films say a lot with a little, and crucially, both films are entirely different.