Paul Schrader’s “First Reformed” stars Ethan Hawke in a Brilliant Performance


By Liz Lopez

Rating: B+

Writer/director Paul Schrader (“Taxi Driver,” “American Gigalo,” “Raging Bull” among the many he has written) presents his latest work, “First Reformed” that debuted at the Toronto Film Festival last fall and was screened in the Festival Favorites of this past March’s SXSW Film Festival. Ethan Hawke stars as Rev.  Toller – a man with a troubled past – who is now a minister at an 18th century church in New York State with very few members in his congregation. He runs the tourist store and addresses the plumbing issues that come with running such a building.

Hawke excels in his performance as the character grapples with his personal issues, having been a married military chaplain and encouraged his soldier son to go to Iraq who subsequently died. He has not recovered from the loss, or from the marriage that was terminated and results in alcoholism and health issues he tries to hide. When he is asked by a member of the congregation, a pregnant young woman named Mary (Amanda Seyfried), for assistance to counsel her husband, Toller’s life changes in unexpected ways. There is nothing predictable about the screenplay that Schrader has created and am impressed by the casting choice of Seyfried for this role. She rises up to meet this great material and delivers an impressive performance that I have not seen her deliver before. The film is definitely worth viewing if you seek more from a drama than what has been offered recently by other filmmakers.

To this I will add for viewers – this is not the ordinary drama or romance stories that have recently been written and produced. This is the type of film that will keep viewers engaged with the well crafted story and performances that will leave you thinking about it for a while. “First Reformed” may put off some viewers at first (those that expect the usual), but it is well worth the wait and contemplation while reaching the end.

Mary is concerned about her husband Michael (Philip Ettinger), an environmental activist who is feeling bleak about the future – and theirs personally – with matters made worse after she discovers one of her husband’s creations. Toller counsels him about hope and yet, he is influenced by some of Michael’s ideas.

There is also an impressive performance by Cedric the Entertainer as Toller’s superior and pastor of a mega-church. In planning for the celebration of the church’s 250th anniversary with the pastor, Toller learns more about the deep pockets and reach of a local polluter.

“First Reformed” also stars Michael Gaston as Edward Balq and Victoria Hill as Esther, among others.

Original Music Composer – Brian Williams; Editor – Benjamin Rodriguez Jr.; Director of Photography – Alexander Dynan. The film is rated R for some disturbing violent images and is 108 minutes.

The film will open in Austin theaters on Friday, May 25th and in some on Thursday evening.

Source: A24


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