Writer/director Paul Schrader redeems his recent misfires with the extraordinary First Reformed, a film whose outward restraint belies emotions just as explosive as those in Taxi Driver and Raging Bull, scripts that Schrader wrote for Martin Scorsese. Ethan Hawke gives a career-best performance as a pastor at a neglected church in upstate New York; after counseling a doomsday-minded environmentalist, he spirals into his own set of crises. The movie, shot in the claustrophobic "Academy" ratio, is rendered in deceptively placid blues and grays, until tinges of unearthly purple and amber emerge from its shadows.
In the second half, Schrader does a couple of audacious things that may alienate more literal-minded viewers, but I think he’s gotten everything exquisitely right—this is a movie that seethes with ideas even as it, like Hawke’s pastor, maintains an outward asceticism. Plus, Cedric the Entertainer!
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