Movie #141 2020: First Reformed (2017)

First Reformed stands alongside various other pieces of multimedia in alluding to the horrendous Catholic Church scandal that plagued the Western world. (See my review of Spotlight as an example). However, First Reformed is completely unique compared to anything else I’ve seen, and this theme of the scandal ends up taking a back seat to the main plot, which is the protagonist (a priest) suffering a crisis of faith.

From the very first frame, First Reformed is immediately different visually. Cold War is the only fairly recent film I’ve seen in a 4:3 format, so seeing an American movie filmed in the same way is super unique.

On top of that, the sound mixing is excellent. The movie is so quiet throughout its entirety, rarely even pausing for a music break. It’s so quiet that at one point, every external noise in the world began to piss me off. Why is the fountain outside my house so damn loud?! Using silence creates an air of poignancy in this movie, meaning that you focus almost solely on the characters and the emotions they are going through.

Screenwriter Paul Schrader flaunts his brilliance here too. He is known for writing some deep, heavy stuff (Taxi Driver and The Last Temptation of Christ are just two examples), and this is no exception. He also directed this movie, and it is clear that he is the driving force throughout, and his Best Screenplay nomination from the Academy for this movie reflects that.

Ethan Hawke, on the other hand, was strongly overlooked for this film. He’s absolutely fantastic, and this is probably the best performance I’ve seen from him. Amanda Seyfried plays her most low-key role yet here too; she proves that she can do that sort of thing in this, and it’s a job well done. 

In regards to story, I was not expecting some of the turns this film takes. You would think that the main focus is on the Catholic Church itself, but this movie casts a wider net than that. Between a twist involving extinction rebellion-style stuff and a sequence involving floating off the ground and floating through space (yep, that happens), this is a movie that kept me consistently on my toes.

What First Reformed perhaps does best is its ending. You know those films that leave you feeling wholly unsatisfied? There’s no danger of that here. The last 15 minutes are so powerful that I physically don’t know what to say about it. I held my breath for a very long time towards its climax.

I won’t lie, this is some heavy, heavy drama. You have to really be in the mood for it to get through it, but it definitely comes with a recommendation from me.

First Reformed is available to stream on Sky Cinema, Now TV and Netflix in the UK.

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