Sundance London 2018 Preview - First Reformed
Dir: Paul Schrader
Starring Ethan Hawke, Amanda Seyfried, Cedric The Entertainer
It’s hard not to see Paul Schrader’s latest as a companion piece to Taxi Driver. Another meditation on his personal struggle with his own Catholicism and doubts about such, in place of Travis Bickel, Schrader places Ethan Hawke’s deeply struggling reverend, once again employing his voice over as the narrative driving force, this time in extracts from the priest’s diary. Where before, Bickel drove through the night of a 1970s vision of hell come to earth in a financially and morally bankrupt New York City, now Father Toller navigates the entire world as he confronts the reality of global warming, both men led into mental unbalance, and a desire to save humanity that can only be justified by extreme violence.
While such recurrent themes are impossible to ignore in Schrader’s latest, it’s a pleasure to say that this is his best work in many a year, tightly directed, restrained but coming apart at the edges, all led by a perfectly judged performance from Hawke at his very best. Schrader uses his formal locked off framing to vibe with the tightly controlled despair of his protagonist here, constantly placing Hawke’s mid close ups symmetrically in the middle of his image. Thankfully the actor is more than up to such a responsibility, having had a recent run that has only managed to enhance his already impressive resume (the likes of Predestination, Boyhood and Maudie in particular.) As Schrader’s film becomes more polemical and uncertain – hitting moments of borderline absurdism even – it is Hawke that grounds it.
First Reformed remains a fascinating latter day move for Schrader, a man whose early reputation has far outweighed his subsequent career - his last film before this was Dog East Dog with Nic Cage lest we forget; and not long before that his Exorcist prequel disaster.
But here, once again back in the wheelhouse of his own personal demons, the filmmaker finds a perfect vessel for his notions in the form of Ethan Hawke.
The Sundance Festival ’18 London runs from May 31 to June 3 - https://spotlight.picturehouses.com/category/sundance-film-festival/
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