Cast: Ethan Hawke, Amanda Seyfried, Cedric the Entertainer
A minister of a small congregation in upstate New York grapples with mounting despair brought on by tragedy, worldly concerns and a tormented past.
We had just finished watching Gattaca (a truly world-class movie) when we came across First Reformed on the iTunes New & Noteworthy section, and thought to give it a try – more because of Ethan Hawke than anything else.
I will say Ethan Hawke seems to truly dedicate himself to whatever role he takes.
The plot – such as it is – centers around a middle-aged minister of a fading congregation whose son was killed in Afghanistan (or Iraq – I can’t remember). Whilst he tries to comfort and help the few remaining members of his flock, he clearly is battling an almost unbearable inner despair – something that becomes painfully evident as he fails to reach the people he tries to help.
First Reformed is really more of a character study on depression and the loss of faith, and the events that take place are at once surreal and hauntingly believable. When Ethan Hawke’s character, Minister Toller, comes across a suicide vest in the belongings of one of his congregation, he doesn’t report it – he takes it. Combined with the stark contrast between his own poorly-attended worship and the wildly successful for-profit church in the neighboring town, and things take – as you can imagine – a nasty turn for the worse.
The final few scenes are nail-bitingly intense, and equally bizarre – suffice to say bombs, churches and barbed wire are involved. This isn’t a happy film, but it subtly underplayed by the entire cast to great effect. You truly believe the emotional rollercoaster of every character, even if you don’t particularly like any of them; the person I felt sorry for the most was ultimately Amanda Seyfried’s Mary, who really didn’t deserve the punishment inflicted on her by Ethan Hawke’s misery and rage.
Sad, despondent and dark.
6/10 would watch again.