Right now (i.e., the post-Oscar season blahs) would be a great time for A24 to release Paul Schrader‘s First Reformed, which everyone went nuts for six months ago. March, April and May films have always lacked nutritional value; it would be wonderful to settle into Schrader’s best film in years right now. Alas, First Reformed won’t open until 6.22.
From my 9.1.17 review: “First Reformed, a spare, Bresson-like, thoroughly gripping piece about despair, environmental ruin, moral absolutism and sexual-emotional redemption, is completely rational and meditative and yet half crazy. But in a good way.
“On top of which it’s been shot in a 1.66:1 aspect ratio, which itself is cause for modest celebration.
“I can’t over-emphasize how amazing it feels to watch a fully felt, disciplined, well–ordered film by a brilliant guy who had seemingly lost his way or gone into eclipse, only to be startled when he leaps out from behind the curtain and says ‘Hah…I never left!’
“First Reformed is so Schraderian, so moralistic in almost a Travis Bickle kind of way, so tortured and yet fully engrossing. Everyone has been calling it Taxi Driver meets Diary of a Country Priest with a little Hardcore and Rolling Thunder thrown in.
“Set in upstate New York, it’s Reverent Toller (Ethan Hawke), an ex-military chaplain turned small-town minister, who gradually succumbs to the idea — don’t laugh or recoil — of moral absolutism by way of becoming a suicide bomber.
“The cause is environmental ruin, and for the agnostics or ignoramuses in the audience Schrader makes the case (as if anyone needed convincing) that what’s happening to the planet right now is a great Biblical sin, and that we can’t just sit on the sidelines and say to ourselves, ‘Well, maybe the seas won’t rise as fast as scientists are predicting.’
“Schrader’s best since Affliction. Or maybe even since Hardcore, which opened 38 years ago. An unmistakable echo of Taxi Driver in a way — pondering an act of moral absolutism that will ‘wipe away all of the filth off the streets’ or words to that effect.
“I was riveted all through it. You can see where it’s going early on, and it holds you in its grip. That first-act conversation with that despairing environmental activist, the bearded husband of Amanda Seyfried, is really great. I didn’t expect a ‘happy’ ending, one that delivers sex and redemption and a kind of Seyfried cleansing, but that’s what it does. I don’t think it works, but the sexual levitation dreamscape scene does work.
“I thought the Schrader who made this, the Schrader who made Hardcore and American Gigolo and Blue Collar, had died and left the earth. But he’s still here and just as focused and well-honed and certain of purpose.
“So lean, spare, spartan. So sure of itself, so planted. The camera barely moving.
“Ethan Hawke…wow. Right on it, the right mood and tone. I believed his every word, every expression. And the natural, unforced way that Seyfried occupies her character and task, and Cedric the Entertainer, who was so great in the Coen brothers Uncommon Cruelty or whatever it was called, and Michael Gaston‘s right-wing industrialist who doesn’t want politics to be part of the 250th anniversary celebration of Hawke’s First Reformed church.”