The Reel Review

C+

Ethan Hawke stars in this somber thriller about the pastor of a small church in upstate New York who emotionally unravels after a soul-shaking encounter with an emotionally-disturbed environmental activist and his concerned pregnant wife, Mary (Amanda Seyfried).

Writer/director Paul Schrader’s broody, moody, church confessional parable about a pastor losing his faith is reminiscent of Daren Aronofsky’s controversial 2017 drama mother!, which also was loaded with biblical symbolism and artsy imagery. And like it, Schrader’s well-crafted, dark film is also a polarizing love it or hate it experience, touching on the issues of climate change, depression and mortality – but often in a way that feels heavy-handed and… preachy. After a first hour and 23 minutes of bleakness, the film veers off into a bizarre metaphysical bent that will delight some arthouse cinephiles – but likely annoy everyone else. Hawke expertly captures the bleakness of a man who has lost his faith, although the film’s ambiguous ending is a bit frustrating and unsatisfying for most viewers. Regardless, it IS memorable and thought-provoking.

REEL FACTS

• Paul Schrader also wrote the screenplays for 1976’s Taxi Driver, 1980’s Raging Bull and 1997’s Affliction, which he also directed along with 1980’s American Gigolo and 1982’s Cat People

First Reformed is the only film nominated for a 2019 Oscar for Best Original Screenplay not nominated for Best Picture

• The church used in the filming is Zion Episcopal Church in Douglastown, Queens, New York

 

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