First Reformed


First Reformed ★★★ 1/2

Four decades ago, Paul Schrader made his name when he wrote the screenplays for Martin Scorsese’s Taxi Driver (1976) and Raging Bull (1980). If he’d done nothing else, the 71-year-old’s place in cinema history would be secure. However, he also directed 23 movies, many of which he also wrote. And while pictures like American Gigolo (1980) and his remake of 1942’s Cat People (1982) found their audiences, it’s his scripts for Scorsese that have defined his career. So, it’s only fitting that his newest film as a writer/director works as a spiritual successor to his earliest collaboration with Scorsese. It’s also damn near a masterpiece. Ethan Hawke plays the Rev. Ernst Toller, a solitary, hard-drinking pastor at a small Dutch Reform church that functions primarily as a tourist spot in upstate New York, because of its early history as a stop along the Underground Railroad. First Reformed, as it’s called, is soon to be celebrating its 250th anniversary, but its dwindling congregation has been eclipsed by Abundant Life, its nearby parent church that caters to a flock of thousands with its state-of-the-art facilities. Toller still has his dedicated parishioners, including Mary (Amanda Seyfried). Pregnant and in need of help, she enlists Toller’s aid in counseling her husband, Michael (Philip Ettinger), a radical environmentalist who’s lost his way. And while Schrader doesn’t quite possess the filmmaking prowess of Scorsese, he frames his deeply troubling look at a crisis of faith as a spellbinding sermon you can’t look away from. (At Boston Common, Coolidge Corner and Kendall Square.)



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