First Reformed: Film Review

First Reformed was the one film I felt I really missed out on during the Sundance London film festival so I had to check it out ahead of its release. I felt like everyone has been raving about it, but I can’t say the same – I can appreciate that it’s a well-made movie but I didn’t actively enjoy it.

Ethan Hawke stars as Ernst Toller, a troubled alcoholic priest at the First Reformed church in upstate New York. One day one of his parishioners, Mary (Amanda Seyfried), asks him to offer counsel to her husband Michael (Philip Ettinger). He is a climate change fanatic who believes that the world is doomed and everyone is going to die. Following a tragedy, Toller begins to look into these claims and ends up in a spiral of despair.

This isn’t an easy, enjoyable watch. It is dark and heavy and there is a lot of dialogue about faith and religion. It is also incredibly slow-moving and not much happens until the very end so you need to have concentration and patience. I didn’t really know what was going to happen but it went to places I never could have predicted and it was dark and weird as hell.

I’ve banged on and on about how much I hate ambiguous ends, but I don’t know if I’ve done too much moaning about ones that just stop. Just like that. They leave you hanging and like ‘you can’t end here’. Someone even sniggered when the credits rolled because it was so ridiculous to end the film abruptly in the middle of a busy camera move and midway through a song. It was so bizarre and I didn’t like it.

Hawke is excellent though, he always is. Such a dependable performer. He does pretty subtle work, but is very troubled and haunted and he portrays Toller convincingly, but at a distance. I never really felt like I knew him, even though we were watching him make diary entries. Seyfried is captivating as always, with those big emotive eyes. I never imagined her to be in a film like this so it was a refreshing change.

First Reformed is certainly not a movie for the masses and may not even please indie fans. It is intense, long and slow, but the performances are excellent and there are some moments of great dialogue.

In cinemas Friday 13th July 

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