First Reformed – Movie Review

Trailer: https://youtu.be/hCF5Y8dQpR4

Rating: A

Positives

  • Ethan Hawke here gives the best performance of his career so far. Hawke brings an immense amount of spiritual torment to his character that sets the tone throughout. We see his fall into the bottle, while also falling into the questioning of his faith. Hawke’s performance really prevails us into his mindset on a level that comes reminiscent of Travis Bickle in “Taxi Driver”. Along with Joaquin Phoenix in “You Were Never Really Here”, Hawkes performance is by far one of the best the year has seen thus far.
  • The direction here by Paul Schrader is very strong. Schrader chooses to shoot the film in the square academy aspect ratio, which gives the film a very olden and minimalist feel. Schrader also uses very minimal camera movement and decides to go with a stationary camera instead. The stationary shots throughout the film bring many imposing images. Easily one that stands out involves the combination of mixing Whisky and Pepto-Bismol which brings a very striking color combination, as Schrader slowly zooms on it in the film. Schrader’s pacing is also something that does a lot with this film. The slow burn is something that helps you a lot immersing inside Rev. Toller’s head.
  • Maybe the strongest element of the film is its screenplay by Schrader as well. Schrader brings many influences to this film, from the likes of his own previous screenwriting work, “Taxi Driver”, Robert Bresson’s “Diary of a Country Priest”, and also Ingmar Bergman’s “Winter Light”. But with many influences this film is still classic Schrader. That being seen with the films gripping narration of Rev. Toller’s journal. The ending of this film will leave many talking as the credits run. But it’s purposefully enigmatic and puts together a beautiful combination of horror and elegance. Schrader in the end paints a portrait only he could paint, as he brings his look of a self-destructive psyche to a spiritually tormented priest.
  • The cinematography by Alexander Dynan here is very strong. Dynan brings a nice shadowy look with the color grade and brings an extreme smoothness when the films minimal camera movement is used.

Negatives

  • The films gets a little plotty for a brief moment or two. I will also say that this is something I could see fading away with repeat viewings.

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