Movie Review - First Reformed
Ethan Hawke (Boyhood and Training Day) stars as Reverend Toller, the head of First Reformed Church in Snowbridge, New York, somewhere near Albany. Toller has a small congregation. During his Sunday sermons, he's lucky if ten people attend. Most of his parishioners have gone over to the megachurch known as Abundant Life, which has a huge, modern space for 5,000 people and technology like huge TV monitors in an almost concert-like space. Toller's church is a small, simple historical church. He had a wife and adult son, but now he lives a very lonely life in the unfurnished, tiny house next to the church.
Amanda Seyfried (Les Misérables and Mamma Mia!) co-stars as Mary, a young, married parishioner who approaches the reverend one day after a sermon. She's pregnant and she's worried about what her husband has been saying about their baby's future. She asks the reverend to meet with her husband, so Toller does.
At the same time, Toller meets with the pastor of Abundant Life who is helping him to plan what's called the Re-Consecration, which seems to be a celebration of the 250th anniversary of First Reformed Church. However, Toller discovers that Abundant Life is in league with Balq Industries, a corporation that has pollution issues, which are contributing to climate change. This bothers Toller and like folie à deux, Toller starts to take on Michael's cause and his point-of-view almost to deadly extremes.
Given his loneliness, his drinking problem, his health issues and his annoyance about church issues, it's easy to see how Toller could adopt Michael's political cause, but it's a little ridiculous where it goes. It's silly actually. This movie's last act and last few minutes are silly. Maybe, it's Schrader's attempt at dark comedy, but I didn't get it. I simply didn't buy Toller's motivations in those final moments. Everything leading up to it though is pretty incredible, starting with Hawke's performance. Yet, Hawke's constant narration is unnecessary. Yes, it's supposed to provide insight into Toller's mental breakdown or his psychic spiral, but Hawke's face and his eyes convey everything that makes the voice-over only seem redundant.
Cedric the Entertainer (The Soul Man and The Steve Harvey Show) also co-stars as Joel Jeffers, the pastor at Abundant Life. He's also great as a more corporate businessman than a pastor. He seems to care more about the bottom line than anything environmental. He has some compassion, but maintaining the status quo and those in power appears to be his chief concern.
Rated R for some disturbing, violent images.
Running Time: 1 hr. and 53 mins.
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