Drama / Thriller
Drama / Thriller
Forty-six year old Reverend Ernst Toller is the pastor at the historic First Reformed Church in upstate New York. It is seen as the "tourist" church or the "souvenir shop" (its historical significance partly it being a stop on the underground railroad before the slaves crossed into Canada) by Abundant Life, which owns the church and which operates a modern self-named five thousand seat church overseen by Reverend Joel Jeffers. First Reformed is celebrating its two hundred fiftieth anniversary this year, for which a major event is planned, modest in size only at First Reformed itself although the dignitaries like the governor and mayor will be at attendance there, while the event will be simulcast at Abundant Life. Most of the speech-making will be done by local industrialist Ed Balq, a major benefactor of Abundant Life and who is the major donor for the necessary upgrades at First Reformed to be able to hold the event there, and for the event itself, while Toller's participation will ...
Uploaded By: FREEMAN
Downloaded 101,202 times
July 31, 2018 at 07:02 PM
I wanted to like it more
SPOILER: I'm not sure that I understand the praise for this film and regret that my review may be interpreted as a political reaction. I'll applaud a good film whether I hold the beliefs of the maker(s). I think in bullet points so here are my views on the Pros & Cons.
- Solid framing, shots, & set design. From the initial shot of the church to the biking scene, to his minimalist furnishings, to the emptiness of the mega-church, I felt like everything visually (barring sfx) was solid & beautiful
- Premise is promising
Based on the narrative, I'm forced into a few possible explanations for the character's development:
1. Anomalous psychotic break not shown on film
2. Months to years of backstory (this story covers about 8 weeks) left out to explain character's need to grab on to this fanaticism as a logical consequence of his mental state & surroundings.
3. The reverend is a dehumanized object created by writer/director as a Christ figure to suffer for the muddled attempt to tie spirituality, corporate responsibility, social apathy, and environmentalism into a cohesive whole.
I'm leaning toward the latter.
- Incongruity between reverend's journey and supporting plot: The leaps the main character makes in the movie are at odds with the presented plot and character background. I think it is a disservice to those vulnerable to fanatical extremism to represent such an easy and shallow transition into said self annihilation & willingness to destroy others. This is a topic still under examination (NY Times 5/31/18), but this film would suggest that a reasonable model for creating a fanatic is to create a 46 year old, white divorcee who lost a child, attended seminary, runs a small church, & suspect he may have cancer. Add one counseling session with a young, environmental fanatic and boom: suicide bomber. Is this a remotely probable demographic?
- Thrown away opportunities: the underground railroad tie in and "gift shop church" as presented were appendages that missed strong opportunities drive the story
- Shallow spiritual platitudes: This film is reviewed by some as a spiritual / Christian engagement into responsibility for how we treat the earth. There is some support here, but the actual intellectual engagement at a theological level (supposedly this character's driving mentality) are a few obvious scripture quotes and brief exchanges. I have engaged in far deeper conversations with environmental activists on Christian under-pinning for their beliefs than this film even considers. It isn't of substance.
- Corporate blame: The story takes a cliche view of the blame by pointing to corporations and the rich exploiting the environment & maneuvering the government officials. This is part of the story, but it is convenient when I can leave a theater on the global consequences of climate change and not feel an iota of responsibility or need to change. Thank you, for the pat on the back and reinforcement of smug slactivism.
- Hawke's portrayal: he nailed the glassy-eyed, soulless addict. Unfortunately, the character needed to be so much more than this to pull such grand issues together.
Religious drama starts out solid, then becomes infuriatingly ludicrous
It is very unusual for a film to aggravate me with its heavy-handed narrative and simple-minded mentality, but this one enraged me more than any other film I've seen in years. To be sure, this film does not immediately embrace its radical ideology. It starts out deliberately, almost at a molasses-like pace but then abruptly turns into something profoundly and alarmingly nonsensical, which is why I'm never going to forget it, but not in a good way.
Director Paul Schrader provides us with the story of Reverend Toller (played with pained dignity by Ethan Hawke), who lost in his son in Iraq and has had to cope with the emotional scars ever since. His marriage is in ruins. His stately old church in upstate New York is an historical landmark but lives in the shadows of the more modern, larger congregation that has greater weight in the local community. Hawke's character gets to know a young couple in his small church, one of whom is a troubled environmental activist.
This raw drama is meant to be about the loss of faith, but its singular problem is the dearth of character development that is required for the extreme turn that the plot takes. The film's descent into lunacy, into over-the-top absurdity is not warranted given how little we connect with Hawke's character. His life has problems, for sure, but his psyche is somewhat inscrutable (despite a voiceover diary, no less) and therefore what follows is inexplicable. His ultimate motives are maddeningly opaque. The ideological transformation lacks a coherent basis and therefore never touches credibility even with its fingertips. The film's shift felt very sudden, and I was shaking my head in the end, wondering how the storyline, for lack of a better word, collapsed. Its promising start felt like years ago when the credits were rolling.
With the right approach and a more subtle, nuanced point of view, this film could have been a classic. Instead, it becomes a cartoonish propaganda piece that will not satisfy an educated audience. Not recommended.
Read more IMDb reviews
Thought-Provoking, Unsettling Character Study
Paul Schrader's new drama "First Reformed" is a drama about a grieving reverend who is counseling a couple--the husband of which is a radical environmentalist. This is a talky, dialogue- driven, and unsettling thriller that makes you both empathize with its characters as well as send a chill down your spine at times.
The film's deeply intellectual and serious commentary on matters of religion and environmentalism is profound and thoughtful. This movie will likely not be suited for mainstream audiences desiring cheap entertainment, but serious viewers looking to be challenged in their thought processes will have much material to ponder during--and after--they view the movie. The acting is very strong, as Schrader commands his cast into giving low-key but quietly powerful and resonant performances. The standouts in the cast are Ethan Hawke's lead role as well as Amanda Seyfried and Cedric the Entertainer in the supporting cast. A gripping, dark (almost relentlessly so at times) tone keeps the viewer engrossed in the film. While this isn't a horror film (despite containing disturbing content and moments,) the film's simple score is incredibly chilling and gets under one's skin more than almost any other film's score I have witnessed in a long time.
My only complaints about this film are found in the third act. A dreamlike, surrealistic scene inspired by impressionism that involves the protagonist and Seyfried's character feels out of place given the grim tone deeply rooted in realism. Additionally, a quick and highly abrupt cut in the film's finale feels disappointing and almost like the equivalent of a 'cop-out' in film editing. It did not positively impact how I viewed the film's ending. But other than these concerns, this is a very well-made and serious drama designed to quietly shock audiences into a state of reflection on the world today as we know it. 8/10