First Reformed


At his best, director Paul Schrader is untouchable when it comes to capturing men (and it is almost always men) pinned between the ruinous modern world. He did this, iconically, with his original screenplay for Martin Scorsese’s Taxi Driver and as a director himself in 2002’s Auto Focus, which centres on an unsettling descent into career dislocation.

Schrader is back on familiar ground with First Reformed, the meditative story of an upstate New York man (a subtle Ethan Hawke) racked by guilt at his own shortcomings and soon to embrace desperate measures. In fact, the movie plays so much like old-school Schrader, you might confuse it for the work of a dutiful grad student.

Once again, we get a tortured Travis Bickle-esque voiceover (Hawke’s Ernst Toller keeps a journal from which he reads passages such as “I know there is no hope”); here, too, is a troubled woman (Amanda Seyfried) who needs saving, and Toller’s own tortured memories of his deceased soldier son.

The filmmaker’s return to a somber Bressonian mode will work like catnip on his superfans, especially after Schrader’s exploitative 2013 Lindsay Lohan disaster The Canyons.

The bottom line
Schrader is back on familiar ground.

By Joshua Rothkopf | 24 Jul 2018


First Reformed
DirectorPaul Schrader
CastingAmanda Seyfried, Ethan Hawke, Cedric the Entertainer