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 be minimal beyond the introductory sermon. First Reformed is generally a sparsely attended church meaning that Toller doesn't have to do much direct ministering, although he does have the stock answers when asked how God factors into this or that situation in one's life. Toller himself has long been divorced, his marriage which could not survive the death of their son, Joseph, in war. Because of that history, Toller believes he is incapable of human love, despite a brief relationship with Esther, the choir mistress at Abundant Life, she who is arguably still in love with him. Toller is neglecting the warning signs about his poor health, the symptoms pointing to a probable diagnosis of stomach cancer, which is only exacerbated by his largely liquid (i.e. alcohol) diet. Toller is already examining his life and work in writing a daily journal for a year, that journal which he intends no one ever to read, but these issues in Toller's life become more pointed when a new pregnant congregant, Mary, asks him to speak to her husband Michael, who Toller will learn is an environmentalist concerned about bringing another human life into what he already sees as a world doomed because of man's role in climate change.
From the same director
Amanda Seyfried (Mary), Ethan Hawke (Reverend Ernst Toller), Cedric the Entertainer (Reverend Joel Jeffers (as Cedric Antonio Kyles)), Michael Gaston (Edward Balq), Victoria Hill (Esther), Van Hansis (Roger), Philip Ettinger (Michael), Krystina Alabado (Youth Choir Member), Kristin Villanueva (Nurse Cindy), Bill Hoag (John Elder), Frank Murray (Coroner), Sue Jean Kim (Youth Director), Gary Lee Mahmoud (Doctor), Ronald Peet (Youth Choir Member), Elanna White (Youth Choir Member), Frank Rodriguez (Sheriff), Satchel Eden Bell (Cynthia), Jon Rua (Repair Man), Ramon Nuñez (Jason), Michael Metta (Balqs' Son), Mahaleia Gray (Jeffers Daughter), Frankie Verroca (Homeless Vet), Jake Alden-Falconer (Youth Choir Member), Ingrid Kullberg-Bendz (Woman), Tyler Bourke (Benny)...
Paul Schrader (written by)
Brian Beckmann (executive producer), Jack Binder (producer), Philip Burgin (executive producer), Greg Clark (producer), Gary Hamilton (producer), Victoria Hill (producer), David Hinojosa (producer), Brooke Lyndon-Stanford (executive producer), Martin McCabe (executive producer), Frank Murray (producer)...
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.
3 wins & 8 nominations
FEST International Film Festival • Indiewire Critics' Poll • International Online Cinema Awards (INOCA) • Montclair Film Festival (MFF) • Munich Film Festival • Seattle International Film Festival • Venice Film Festival
No Coração da Escuridão (Portugal) • Iskušenik (Serbia) • Первая реформаторская церковь (Russia) • First Reformed (USA)
religion, church, suicide, environmentalism, church organ, singing, reference to god, reference to jesus christ, voice over narration, finding a dead body, self harm, explosive vest, suicide vest, priest, priest as protagonist, bicycling, death of husband, suicide of husband, toxic waste dump, reconsecretion of church, blood, snow, husband wife relationship, 369 degree camera well shot, rifle, politics, super church, kiss, depression, fantasy sequence...
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