"First Reformed" sees Paul Schrader, renowned for penning scripts like "Taxi Driver" and "Raging Bull", returning to his roots of transcendental storytelling. The film revolves around Reverend Ernst Toller (Ethan Hawke), a former military chaplain struggling with the death of his son and the subsequent collapse of his marriage. Now a pastor at a historic small-town church, Toller's faith is further tested when he counsels a radical environmentalist and his pregnant wife.
Ethan Hawke delivers a career-best performance, portraying Toller's spiraling descent with a subdued intensity that's both haunting and magnetic. He captures the essence of a man grappling with his beliefs, torn between despair and hope, all while facing an existential crisis spurred by the looming environmental catastrophe.
Amanda Seyfried, playing the concerned and spiritually inquisitive wife of the environmentalist, adds depth and humanity to the story, grounding Toller's internal struggles in tangible relationships.
Visually, "First Reformed" is a masterclass in restraint. Schrader opts for static, composed shots that reflect the stoic nature of Toller's character while allowing the underlying tension to simmer beneath the surface. The film’s austere aesthetic mirrors the church's sparse interiors, creating an environment where every glance and movement carries weight.
Deeply introspective and thematically rich, "First Reformed" addresses contemporary issues through the lens of personal faith and morality. It's a somber and contemplative piece, pondering the role of religion in a world on the brink. Schrader's exploration of a soul in crisis, set against the backdrop of a planet in peril, makes for a compelling and thought-provoking cinematic experience.