Watson saw First Reformed, and one thing I will agree here above the cut is that I also missed this one when it was out in theaters.
But I’ve seen it now!
Reverend Ernst Toller (Ethan Hawke) is having a crisis of faith. He’s the pastor of one of the oldest churches in New York state, and things aren’t really going all that well. The plumbing doesn’t seem to be working too well. His congregation is tiny and includes his ex-wife. He’s got some health issues, and his divorce was caused by the unexpected death of his son in the Iraq War, a war Toller can’t seem to justify now. Into all this comes a young wife, Mary (Amanda Seyfried), who is concerned for her husband as he seems to be drifting down the path of radical environmentalism.
What follows is Toller questioning his faith and purpose. Can the pastor of a very small church get much of anything done? Can he do anything? Mary’s husband Michael seems to have planted ideas in Toller’s head about environmentalism and what humans should do about it when the rich and powerful among us do nothing but make things worse. Is Toller’s dark mood because of the death of his son? Does the fact that another pastor, Jeffers (Cedric the Entertainer under his real last name), clearly has a much nicer and more successful church bother him? Is it his health? The divorce? Toller’s reading habits? All of the above? Whatever it is, Toller is clearly hurting, and there’s a good chance he might do something radical unless something can stop him.
Hawke is excellent as the conflicted Toller. He doesn’t go overboard with anything while the character knows his scripture, and can make a good case for his actions…but so can people like Jeffers or Toller’s ex. Writer/director Paul Schrader has a long history of writing suspense movies, and this isn’t even his first work with conflicted religious figures considering he got screenplay credit for many of Martin Scorsese’s works including some of my personal favorites, but most notably for the purposes of this review/example The Last Temptation of Christ. This is a quiet movie about despair, one where the possibility of violence is ever there in the name of a greater good that may not do many people at all much good. 8.5 out of 10 bottles of Draino.