First Reformed ★★★★

Review In A Nutshell:

Paul Schrader has tackled almost perfectly the sense of crisis many have in this 21st-century. We see around us the contradictions and temptations amplified through the existence of mass social media and ease of information. This is why we see traditional churches contain little attendance and why some have developed into a more commercialized business model - taking on the appearance of a convention centre - as a way of attracting and preserving that audience. In First Reformed, we see Reverend Toller - a minister of a small historical church - slowly losing his faith as he is being challenged by the abundant issues of the modern world. In this trail we see him encounter acts of radicalism, capitalist influence over churches, temptations of abortion, disillusioned faith, and self-destruction; some of which he himself is personally challenged by. Schrader captures the narrative in such a way that display images that indicate both intimacy and claustrophobia, almost as if physically suffocating Toller, while also utilising moments of extreme negative space to highlight his parallel sense of confusion, loneliness, and detachment. The performance Ethan Hawke brings here is compelling, and not to mention attractive. By this I mean not in physical looks, but rather in the manner he conveys this internally tortured man, enticing us to peer in closer and to find the subtleties that even those directly in front of him are not able to perceive. To identify First Reformed as Schrader’s crowning achievement would be difficult for me since this would mark as the first directorial work that I have seen from his filmography. However, given the confidence and density of its construction and content, it is easy to see why this film is so celebrated.