First Reformed Review
The Story/The Direction:
This story takes place in the present day in a small town somewhere in upstate New York where Toller (Hawke) works as a pastor who is preparing for his church's 250-year anniversary. He had a wife and son but the latter is killed in battle and his wife leaves him. After one Sunday service, he interacts with Mary (Seyfried) who asks for guidance for herself and her husband. Being a woman of faith, she became scared after her husband stated he does not want their child to come into this world that may be destroyed. This screenplay was written and directed by Schrader who also wrote and/or co-wrote the Martin Scorsese films Taxi Driver, Raging Bull, and The Last Temptation of Christ. This film tackles a very real debate between spirituality and realism through its engaging dialogue and message. While nowhere near not as controversial as Darren Aronofsky's mother! from 2017, it does tackle similar concepts. Being a man who was brought up in a church that was similar to that of the one Toller works in, Schrader shows the debate in a way that is not meant to shock you but rather instigate a conversation about its message. He is not hostile towards religion in any way and shows the questions that probably he is going through or has gone through in his past. He confronts the problems but does not rule out the positivity of faith. By showing the journey that Toller goes through, he asks his audience to only do the same.
Toller is a man who turned to religion because he lost everyone that he loved. His wife left him after his son was killed in battle after Toller convinced him to enlist. Toller is a very troubled man who is played brilliantly by Hawke. He has a career that has gone up and down but this film shows that he can still act. Toller is a man that is very similar to Schrader's Travis Bickle in Taxi Driver. While both men are troubled men, Toller shows an internal turmoil that perhaps Schrader and many others go through. Toller has put all of his trust in an entity that is supposed to fight for humanity and it is revealed that things are not all good. This revelation has him questioning many things as a lot of humans do when someone or something that is trusted in turns out to be different. This does not apply to only faith but also a friend's choices in life, country, or even humanity as a whole as well. Hawke is also surrounded by a solid supporting cast with Seyfried and Kyles being the standouts. The latter is especially good as he has taken on a more serious role in comparison to his previous films.
This film has a few very small flaws that are noticeable. It is a little slow in the beginning and there is one scene that standouts in a somewhat odd way. While it does not damage the film as a whole, it can take away from the film if a viewer either does not agree with the message or only does not understand it.
Schrader has put together this story that proposes a lot of questions but does not give the viewers all the answers. He wants the audience to think from the beginning to all the way to the last scene of the film which will instigate conversations alone. Having that plus brilliant performances by all especially Hawke makes this film one of the best films of 2018 so far, if not the best. If a moviegoer is looking for a film that will both provide an emotional and an intellectual response, this film will provide that plus much more. The skill behind and in front of the camera makes this amazing film worth seeing in theatres and again on Blu-ray.
Rating: 4.5/5.0 bowties
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