FIRST REFORMED is bleak, stark, brooding, and ultimately pretty damn depressing, but it is also smart, well-written, and beautifully made. I don’t typically go in for these types of “heavy” movies, and I am not particularly a fan of writer/director Paul Schrader (although he did write TAXI DRIVER). But Ethan Hawke’s portrayal of a priest in the midst of a spiritual crisis/breakdown had me hooked from the very first line. Hawke is SO good in this. Why he wasn’t nominated is beyond me.
To be clear, the movie is hard to watch. It is existential in its themes, heavy-handed in its politics (we get it: Global Warming is bad.) and it almost always goes too far in an attempt to shock you (as Schrader often does). But it’s also a very thoughtful, compelling, and at times, genuinely surprising (in a good way) discourse about faith... and anger. This is a filmmaker with something to say and who knows exactly how he wants to say it. Every frame of the movie is calculated, deliberate. Every location, every camera move, every angle, every lens, chosen for a reason. And in a world of “spray the scene” and “we’ll build it later in post”, that is refreshing to see. You may not like what he is saying (or even how he is saying it), but by the time the credits roll you will have definitely heard what he has to say. #firstreformed