Tuesday 18 December 2018

First Reformed ★★★★★

Paul Schrader is a truly unsung hero of cinema. You might not know his name, but if I were to tell you he wrote Taxi Driver and Raging Bull for Martin Scorsese and directed Mishima: A Life In Four Chapters (executively produced by George Lucas and Francis Ford Coppola), you’d probably agree that he’s a pretty influential figure. In recent years, however, his work has dropped in quality somewhat. His Exorcist prequel Dominion was a load of rubbish, and Nicolas Cage-starrer The Dying of The Light was a bit pants. 2016’s Dog Eat Dog, I felt, was a return to form for the filmmaker – although many disagreed. 2017’s First Reformed, however, we can all agree is a masterpiece.

Ethan Hawke stars as Reverend Toller, a Protestant minister faced with questions of faith and morality while serving as a pastor of a dwindling historical church. He soon meets Mary (Amanda Seyfried) who sets him on a path that he never could’ve predicted. The film is a very powerful study filled with very weighty questions which I cannot even begin to analyse here, so we’ll look at the surface of the film to save myself from embarrassment as I try to answer the film’s deep theories of religion…

Ethan Hawke is an absolute marvel here. He’s always been one of my favourite actors, but his performance in First Reformed could just be one of his finest yet – and, I think, one that has a pretty good chance of securing him an Oscar nomination in the coming months. The film is leading the Gotham Awards nominations with Hawke securing a nominee for Best Actor. Consider that First Reformed has picked up more nominations than Oscar-favourite period drama The Favourite and that should tell you everything you need to know about this little film’s quality. Hawke is one of the finest and most underrated actors working today and I think this film will remind the world just what he is capable of, given the right role. He also found time to direct the stunning biopic Blaze at the same time as making this. The man is a machine. Special mention should also go to Seyfried, who certainly delivers her most complex and assured performance – especially when compared to Mamma Mia 2, released at a similar time…She’s brilliant here, and delivers another performance that could just bag an Oscar nom.

The film’s visuals are immediately apparent as being rather unique, as the film is presented in the aspect ratio of 1.37:1, which creates uncomfortably tight and foreboding imagery throughout. This is a dark and haunting film, with the bleak colourless visuals reinforcing this feeling of spiritual dread. Paul Schrader’s writing and directing are also phenomenal and a strong reminder of what the man is capable of – the film is a surprising companion piece to his early masterpiece Taxi Driver, with some staggering parallels throughout the narrative.

This is a very dark and uncomfortable watch at times, but one that leaves many questions with the viewer long after the credits have finished rolling. Here is a film with a lot to say and even more to ask, and a very unique and fresh drama that will certainly sit pretty high in my Top Films of 2018 list. Just don’t expect an easy ride. First Reformed is a challenging film to watch. First Reformed is one of Schrader’s best films and boasts one of Hawke’s finest performances. Unmissable.


Sam Love

First Reformed at CeX

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