"Sin on Your Shoulders"
A Review of "First Reformed” by Nathan H. Box
Director: Paul Schrader, Writer: Paul Schrader, Starring: Amanda Seyfried, Ethan Hawke, Cedric the Entertainer
Rating: 4 STARS, SHOWTIME
A former military chaplain is wracked by grief over the death of his son. Mary is a member of his church whose husband, a radical environmentalist, commits suicide, setting the plot in motion.
In 2014, a film called, “Calvary” was released starring Brendan Gleeson of “Gangs of New York” fame. It was a hard look at a revered in a small beachside town clashing, both internally and externally, with faith. It was a wonderfully dark movie about the tug-of-war that exists between religion and the modern world. It was also a film deserving of a chance from the moviegoing public. Striking many of the same chords including a film people should see, we are given another film about existential crises focused on a man of faith with the movie, “First Reformed.”
The first thing you will notice about “First Reformed” is the brooding and quiet chaos sewn underneath. This sense of unease is brought to the forefront with profound dialogue and Ethan Hawke who gives one of the best performances of his career. Within Hawke’s character, we see a man of despair. He is called to the church after the death of his son in Iraq. When he meets a radical environmentalist, torn over the thought of bringing a child into a world that will be radically shaped by a changing climate, their despair and the hope that is found in religious faith go head to head.
Some of my favorite scenes in this film are when Mr. Hawke is holding the screen by himself or narrating over the scenery before us. The words he is speaking are captured in a journal and reveal dread, loneliness, shaky faith, and turmoil over how best to use his position. As the lessons of the environmentalist begin to make more sense, this means Hawke will need to use his position in a battle of man versus machine; the machine, in this case, being a polluting energy company who also happens to be one of the largest donors to the church overseen by Hawke.
The entirety of this film is about being in a precarious position; reverend and parishioner, reverend and donor, reverend and employee, reverend and God. In each one of these relationships, we see a man in crisis who has sins stacking up on his shoulders. As the film draws to a conclusion and its darkest hour, it becomes a question of whether Atlas will shrug, or will he do something to correct the course demanded by faith and stewardship for God’s creation. The drama created here cannot be undersold with some of the most harrowing scenes coming in the last 20 minutes. You will leave the cineplex with a multitude of questions to answer for yourself and the world around you. These lingering questions alone are worth the price of admission.
Be good to each other,
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