Rated: R for some disturbing violent images. Reviewed by: Jim Release date: June 8, 2018 Released by: A24 Films
Paul Schrader (writer of The Last Temptation of Christ and maker of Auto Focus) initiates a comeback with Ethan Hawke (Maudie, Born To Be Blue, Boyhood) in an intriguing thriller that pits the spiritual against the personal.
His First Reformed is set in upstate New York around a small historic Dutch Reform place of worship (once a stop on the Underground Railroad). It's where Hawke's ailing, dolorous Rev. Ernst Toller, once a jaded military chaplain is part of a rededication ceremony backed by the nearby substantial Abundant Life and unctuous, if magnanimous manufacturing benefactor (Michael Gaston). His unprincipled oil company isn't a plus at all for its state emission levels.
Toller has a decreasing patronage where the church has hit a rough patch staying afloat as a tourist destination. He isn't pleased having to show gratitude to those he finds unpleasant, including a patronizing ducat, an ebullient Cedric Keyes, e.g. The Entertainer.
The anecdotal, anguished cleric with an unknown future (who lost his son in the Iraq War where he urged him to enlist in and which led to marital disintegration) is less a master of ministry than sharing his simmering angst. It relates to the main narrative where a married (with child) churchgoer Mary (Amanda Seyfried of Lovelace and the upcoming Mamma Mia ! Here We Go Again) needs the Reverend to give advice to her environmental zealot of a husband (Philip Ettinger); specially regarding her warnings about his stance on having a child in such an increasingly distressing situation.
The final section gravitates out of a sense of moral ennui where the addled pastor moves towards action when it comes to the financier and protester (what's in his garage) that elicits senseless fascination for a cathartic reconciliation of a subdued, if chilling denouement. In First Reformed Schrader and Hawke have a soulful rapt over saintly posturing with real-life responses to a crisis in faith.