First Reformed (2018)
Critic Consensus: Brought to life by delicate work from writer-director Paul Schrader and elevated by a standout performance by Ethan Hawke, First Reformed takes a sensitive and suspenseful look at weighty themes.
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Critic Reviews for First Reformed
First Reformed is a bleak, punishing movie and the furthest thing imaginable from an easy crowdpleaser. But Hawke juices it with an austere sense of grace.
Schrader is the divine mortal who wrote Taxi Driver and Raging Bull. He's as passionate as ever; what he has lost is his discipline.
Yet ultimately it's so good, and the attention to truthfulness so intense, that Schrader writes himself into a narrative dead end and to a conclusion that bounces, within a few short minutes, from shocking to preposterous to silly to schmaltzy.
Shaker furniture in movie form - stark, plain, conceived in austere and intelligent good taste; beautifully made, in fact, but maybe more designed for looking at than actually sitting on.
The film is a zinger, with Hawke giving Toller the hungry, doomed conviction of a Graham Greene hero.
Audience Reviews for First Reformed
Slow and calm drama in 4:3 aspect ratio (which fits the mood perfectly) and almost entirely static camera work, relying mostly on its writing and the great acting. The tension builds up slowly, without reading about the premise you wonder for a while where the film might actually take you. In the end it has you by the collar and doesn't stop shaking. There are several themes and ideas coming together here, but for me what stands out is the big bitch slap for Christian conservatives in the US backing the wrong orange faced horses these days.
I don't believe I've ever seen a film shot so deliberately. Almost every single angle is framed with precision and intent. Like a Wes Anderson film sapped of any and all whimsy. Many shots linger in a style not often found outside of horror films, in the scenes they intend to deliver the audience a scare that its characters do not see.
With a formal rigor that reflects the protagonist's internal struggle and the austere life he chose to lead, Schrader's film reminded me of Ingmar Bergman's Winter Light, in which a Christian priest also had his faith shaken by despair - a despair so intense we can feel it across the screen.
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