Review: First Reformed
Oscar snubs are one thing, but to see how crude and vicious the Academy was towards First Reformed is a bit upsetting. An Ethan Hawke led drama, helmed by one of Hollywood’s busiest and best, Paul Schrader, it had all the right elements there to receive a small handful of nominations, particularly Best Actor and Best Director, but it was simply not to be.
Strangely enough, Schrader seems to blend the general sense of drama with some more extreme aspects of the thriller and even horror genre. Its use of extreme, almost taboo subjects throughout (terrorism, suicide etc) is what makes it so unique and interesting.
As expected with independent drama, there are a few reality-breaking scenes that can really throw you out of the movie. But, if you just stick with it and let it draw out these elongated dream-like sequences, you’re in for a real treat of a movie.
Because aside from all the garbage it throws up in this regard, the plot and writing of this movie are superb: tense, prolific with good ideas and great at executing them.
The expected ‘deeper meanings’ aspect is thrown around in the movie somewhat, building up nicely for most of the film and then drastically shifting by the final few moments.
Ethan Hawke is powerful in his role as Ernst Toller, the troubled pastor at First Reformed. His struggles, both professional and personal, are highlighted in great detail throughout. If it weren’t for a career-best performance, then the role of Ernst Toller simply wouldn’t have worked.
Alongside Hawke, Amanda Seyfried and Cedric the Entertainer both appear to offer some excellent supporting roles. It’s more a surprise than anything to see Cedric the Entertainer in such a serious role, but he’s well suited and it works with surprisingly strong results. Seyfried also gives a great performance, proving once more that she isn’t just cruising off of the success that Mamma Mia! brought her.
Jumping between lessons of morality to the impact of climate change, the writing of First Reformed is really something to admire. However, it struggles to pace itself, at times it aims to awe and surprise an audience, instead of steering the plot into more predictably well-received places. Because of this, it makes the film that much more interesting to view and experience. The fact that it takes these risks unceremoniously and almost at random continually makes it fresh and a tense third act makes up for a rather slow burner.
First Reformed is a rare gem, blending extreme auteur with a lovingly-crafted plot that has finally allowed Paul Schrader to make some headway in the Academy Awards. But awards aren’t everything, and it’s great to see this movie getting the solid and strong recognition it deserves.
With great chemistry between the cast, a career-best performance from Ethan Hawke and held together with some excellent writing, it’s a sure-fire hit for any and all drama fans.