First Reformed



01 June 2018| No Comments on First Reformed     by Sean Chavel


Ethan Hawke as a priest with a crisis of conscience, and yet he is supposed to lead the celebration of his church’s upcoming two hundred and fiftieth anniversary. It’s amazing the church still stands since its held together by outside donations, while the modernized Abundant Life Church down the road is the one that’s popular and thriving. I’m thinking at first, how is First Reformed a thriller in the way it has been labeled by the promotional hype machine? I wouldn’t call it a thriller, but as it builds it becomes a drama questioning the values of religion, character study, peer into self-punishment, alarm on environmental decay, and anxiety of the apocalypse that could be coming this century.

I don’t know what you call it overall. What makes the film suspenseful, to say the least, is the way it keeps you questioning about, scene for scene, where all of it is going. Paul Schrader, four-time screenwriter for Martin Scorsese films and with an abundance of writing-directing credits of his own (“Auto Focus” and “Affliction” are his best), is the intrepid filmmaker behind this. There are some trying scenes (you have to dig around judiciously to pluck out the most meaningful points out of long dialogues). This is still however his best film of Schrader’s in awhile, and one you can’t pass judgment on until your head has stopped spinning and you’ve thought about it for an hour afterwards.

Hawke gives a steady performance who emits the right tone of compassion, composure and tactful message-making. His homilies are more on the serious side than they are humorous. I’m thinking, yes, good Hawke performance. Then as the film develops, as it shows how the dark vibes are penetrating and getting the best of him, I’m thinking it’s a great Hawke performance. That Hawke is pissing blood and has cancer symptoms, and choosing not to take care of himself, is not just meekness. It’s more extreme self-loathing that he neglects himself.

It really is better not to know much about the film beyond that. All I will say is that Amanda Seyfried (perfectly cast), comes forward to the Priest and asks that he speaks to her husband (Philip Ettinger) who is deeply depressed over world issues. She is pregnant, and yet the husband does not want to bring a child into the world because he thinks it is doomed. Hawke exercises his dogma to bring the best out of the young man and release his depression. His words sound like the ones coming from any good priest. The priest gets sucked into the depression by what the young man has said.  The contemplation gets so deep one can become a disturbed person.

This is by no means an ordinary movie. It’s not a movie for youngsters. An adult could have a hard shell and even then you would be shaken by it.

You know, you could do horrible, terrible things to this Earth. But if the right attractive girl kissed you, it really would stop a man from participating in destructive acts. It’s that simple, a kiss from the right girl above all, that puts a lid on a man’s temper and rage before it flares up.

SIX MONTH’S LATER UPDATE: I saw it a second time. Originally I gave the film 3.5 stars, and see now, so bizarre yet reverential, so bleak yet so committed to a message, that it is owed 4 stars in this update.

108 Minutes. Rated R.


Film Cousins: “Diary of a Country Priest” (1950, France); “Affliction” (1998); “An Inconvenient Truth” (2006); “Silence” (2016).

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Sean Chavel

About The Author / Sean Chavel

Sean Chavel is a Hollywood based author and movie reviewer. He is the Executive Director of, a new website that has adapted the movie review site genre by introducing moodbased and movie experience based reviews.


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