The score given reflects the Blu-ray release and not the film itself.
Although Paul Schrader hasn’t had a truly remarkable film released in the last decade or so, his latest, First Reformed, marks a return to form for the writer-director, who helped to bring us such iconic films as Taxi Driver, Raging Bull, American Gigolo and many more. With its expertly crafted script, stellar performances and undeniably gorgeous cinematography, this is one of Schrader’s best directorial efforts and one of the best films released this year.
Ethan Hawke plays a priest who runs a small church in upstate New York, whose congregation numbers have dwindled since the opening of the nearby megachurch run by the Reverend Joel Jeffers (Cedric the Entertainer in his best role to date). After a nagging illness proves to be more serious than he initially thought and struggling to counsel the husband of one of his parishioners, he begins spiraling into a world of drink and depression.
First Reformed exists at the intersection of faith and science, as Hawke’s character, Reverend Ernst Toller, grapples with his own mortality among the alarming evidence he discovers regarding our planet’s sustainability. Mary, played by Amanda Seyfried, introduces him to her husband, a man who was recently released from prison for his work as an environmental activist and who is suffering from a deep depression.
It can’t be overstated how much I adored the visual aesthetic of this film, which marks a departure for Schrader, as he utilizes only static shots in a 1.37 : 1 aspect ratio. The production design complements the disconnected, somber tone, with the entirety of the film accentuating symmetry in every shot. The Blu-ray version retains the aspect ratio and looks great, providing us with an excellent transfer.
While its production design seems almost clinical in its minimalism, the characters in First Reformed are anything but. Schrader has always been one of the best screenwriters in American cinema, and this film makes for a solid supporting argument of that statement. The small cast of characters are complex and fully realized, allowing the three main talents to really flex their acting muscles.
This is a film that will no doubt be considered for inclusion in the Criterion Collection in the future, but for now we’re left with a fairly bare-bones home release. There’s only one bonus feature included besides the trailer, a short featurette with interviews from Paul Schrader, Ethan Hawke and Cedric the Entertainer. It’s an interesting little supplement, but a film like this begs for a deeper dive.
First Reformed is unexpectedly incredible, and while the Blu-ray release is so-so, it’s still a must-see film of 2018… just maybe in rental form.