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First Reformed

Ethan Hawke plays Reverend Ernst Toller, who is a pastor of a small parish that is a historical landmark and is overshadowed by the larger mother church, which has money and modern technology at its disposal. Toller is a heavily burdened man struggling to find a purpose, and the depth of his problems are slowly and methodically revealed as the film progresses. He writes daily in his journal with the intent of burning it after a year.  One day, one of his parishioners, Mary, asks him to speak to her husband Roger. Roger is an environmentalist who is so concerned about the future of the planet that he wants Mary to abort their child. The conversation sets Toller on a path that has him questioning everything about his existence. While not a perfect film, I really enjoyed several aspects of it. Ethan Hawke gives an amazing performance, perhaps one of the best of his career. The camera work is delicate, and the close-ups of Hawke reveal the power of his acting. Schrader, who gave us films like Taxi Driver and Affliction, brings yet another excellent film about men who deal with inner demons. I also loved the voice-over of his journal entries; I thought it gave a somber, penetrating effect to the film.  I found parts of the content related to climate change, destruction of the environment and the negative impact of big corporations to be somewhat preachy and heavy-handed, which became rather distracting at times. The film gets a thumbs-up from me for its excellent lead performance and somber, dark beauty. I don’t know that this film is for everyone – many will find it slow, and the ending is very odd and is one that surely divides audiences. This is also one that doesn’t necessarily need to be seen on the big screen.

About Gary Burkholder

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