First Reformed

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Director: Paul Schrader

Presented by: Philip Ettinger

Starring: Amanda Seyfried, Ethan Hawke, Cedric Kyles

 

2017, USA, 113 Minutes, DCP

Distributor: A24

Program Notes

Paul Schrader is a legend among film lovers of all stripes. A writer and director whose body of work spans five decades, he is the force behind some of cinema’s most revered works. His writing with Martin Scorsese produced the legendary films Taxi Driver and Raging Bull, while his directorial efforts include notable cult films Blue Collar and Affliction. Schrader strikes cinema gold once again with First Reformed, a gift of a film that further solidifies his reputation as a master of the screen.

Ernst Toller (Ethan Hawke) is a pastor at a small church in upstate New York. As the church prepares for it’s Sestercentennial, he is approached by young parishioner Mary (Amanda Seyfried) whose husband Michael (Philip Ettinger) is in need of counsel. No stranger to difficult situations, Toller wants to help and pays them a house call. Inside, he’s thrust into an intense theological debate with a visibly on-edge Michael. The radical environmentalist feels uneasy bringing a child into a corrupt world. Preacher Toller wants to reassure Michael that while the world has problems, we must endure. Michael isn’t buying it and his dire appraisal clearly strikes a cord with Toller. As the two part, we know the conversation has had a more profound impact on the counselor than on the counseled. This tense exchange is a pivotal moment in the plot and it is also one of the most riveting, brilliantly acted scenes to grace the screen in years.

From this early moment, First Reformed takes flight. The increasingly haunted Toller finds that the limits of his conviction are tested by his own demons and the increasing resonance of Michael’s words. Toller’s journal entries, which narrate the film become increasingly despondent as he gropes for answers to the unsettling questions and realities facing him. Finally, his morose appraisals lead to a disturbing crescendo in the action. A taught exploration of Toller’s crisis of faith in the face overwhelming doubt, First Reformed is undeniably one of the year’s finest and most surprising films! (Scott Braid)

 

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