It is very unusual for a film to aggravate me with its heavy-handed narrative and simple-minded mentality, but this one enraged me more than any other film I've seen in years. To be sure, this film does not immediately embrace its radical ideology. It starts out deliberately, almost at a molasses-like pace but then abruptly turns into something profoundly and alarmingly nonsensical, which is why I'm never going to forget it, but not in a good way.
Director Paul Schrader provides us with the story of Reverend Toller (played with pained dignity by Ethan Hawke), who lost in his son in Iraq and has had to cope with the emotional scars ever since. His marriage is in ruins. His stately old church in upstate New York is an historical landmark but lives in the shadows of the more modern, larger congregation that has greater weight in the local community. Hawke's character gets to know a young couple in his small church, one of whom is a troubled environmental activist.
This raw drama is meant to be about the loss of faith, but its singular problem is the dearth of character development that is required for the extreme turn that the plot takes. The film's descent into lunacy, into over-the-top absurdity is not warranted given how little we connect with Hawke's character. His life has problems, for sure, but his psyche is somewhat inscrutable (despite a voiceover diary, no less) and therefore what follows is inexplicable. His ultimate motives are maddeningly opaque. The ideological transformation lacks a coherent basis and therefore never touches credibility even with its fingertips. The film's shift felt very sudden, and I was shaking my head in the end, wondering how the storyline, for lack of a better word, collapsed. Its promising start felt like years ago when the credits were rolling.
With the right approach and a more subtle, nuanced point of view, this film could have been a classic. Instead, it becomes a cartoonish propaganda piece that will not satisfy an educated audience. Not recommended.
Drama / Thriller
Drama / Thriller
Forty-six year old Reverend Ernst Toller is the pastor at the historic First Reformed Church in upstate New York. It is seen as the "tourist" church or the "souvenir shop" (its historical significance partly it being a stop on the underground railroad before the slaves crossed into Canada) by Abundant Life, which owns the church and which operates a modern self-named five thousand seat church overseen by Reverend Joel Jeffers. First Reformed is celebrating its two hundred fiftieth anniversary this year, for which a major event is planned, modest in size only at First Reformed itself although the dignitaries like the governor and mayor will be at attendance there, while the event will be simulcast at Abundant Life. Most of the speech-making will be done by local industrialist Ed Balq, a major benefactor of Abundant Life and who is the major donor for the necessary upgrades at First Reformed to be able to hold the event there, and for the event itself, while Toller's participation will ...
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July 31, 2018 at 07:02 PM