First Reformed Screen 92 of 9 reviews

First Reformed

2017

First Reformed Poster
  • Anchored by a terrific performance from Ethan Hawke as an emotionally and spiritually distraught Protestant minister, the film advances themes that have long been of concern to Schrader, as well as reflecting the (freely admitted) influence of such films as Bresson’s “Diary of a Country Priest” and Bergman’s “Winter Light.” An important and moving work by a master filmmaker.

  • The secret behind the film’s ability to maintain this uneasy balance is a thoroughly precise and peculiar visual style. In gorgeous academy ratio and soft blue tones, static shots give clear access to Toller’s state of mind, all the while showing the context he finds himself in, locations and situations which often stand in amusing contrast with his depressive state.

  • For this remarkably focused picture, Schrader pulls hard from not just his own cinema and its spiritual yearning that twists into violence and (self-)abuse, but also from Bergman’s Winter Light (1962) and his beloved Carl Th. Dreyer. Above all, the film liberally adapts Robert Bresson, specifically the mixture of religious abnegation and egotism of Diary of a Country Priest (1951) and the specter of malaise for a new generation from The Devil, Probably (1977).

  • Everything Paul Schrader has done throughout his career has led him to First Reformed, potentially the finest entry in what my friend Jeremiah Kipp refers to as the writer-director's “men in rooms” films... Like many of his fellow movie brats (Scorsese, De Palma, Spielberg) at their best, Schrader references his forbears as way of distilling and crystallizing his own ideas and obsessions. What results here is something entirely, thrillingly new, and very much of the now.

  • Just when one is about to lose faith in a director’s ability to recover from the slip-ups of recent years, along comes a film that makes one want to believe in his greatness all over again... Schrader does well by letting his camera quietly rest on Hawke’s face, framing and staging scenes in tight quarters to powerful effect and using long, static shots to create an increasingly oppressive atmosphere of discomfort and ordeal.

  • Schrader is taking the tools of Slow Cinema to basically argue we need to go back to Bresson rather than, say, Tarr — I’m not sure it’s an argument I agree with in general, but in practice it’s absolutely fascinating to watch him use the idiom against itself. From there on it’s a wild ride, full of bluntly didactic and absolutely justifiable climate change panic..., and a nervewracking climax whose moral calculus is not, it turns out, preordained.

  • It’s a fierce film; Schrader, one of the crucial creators of the modern cinema (among his many achievements, he wrote “Taxi Driver” and directed “American Gigolo”), seems to have made it in a state of anger, passion, pain, mourning, and desire, held together by the conflicted religious fury—blending exaltation and torment—that runs through all of his films.

  • Even as it toes the edge of satire, pulp thriller-dom, and overwrought symbolism (Seyfried’s character is named Mary), First Reformed persists in its seriousness about the survival of the soul in hard times; I’m not convinced that the final scenes work, but as a colleague pointed out after the press screening, it’s hard to think of an ending that wouldn’t in some way betray the movie’s delicate balance of contemplation and outrage.

  • It cools its fury at America’s unholy union of faith and commerce with aesthetics imported from the canons of art cinema, holding it in check until the film’s climax, which is an all-American scream of Christian kitsch.

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