Linda and Al Lerner review “First Reformed” from the Chicago Critics Film Festival


Faith, hope, despair and … environmentalism? That’s the combination of themes coming out of the creatively twisted mind of Writer/Director Paul Schrader in his latest work. Schrader is known for such provocative films as Taxi Driver, American Gigolo and Affliction. And he’s got another one, but this one’s a little different.

Ethan Hawke (Pastor Ernst Toller) gives a commanding but subtle and restrained performance as the clergyman of First Reformed; a small, quaint, Upstate New York church about to celebrate its 250th anniversary. The church has a lot of history but not a lot of parishioners because about 5,000 attend the massive and materialistic brand of grand performance religion at the mega- church Abundant Life. The pastor of that church (Cedric the Entertainer) is working with Toller to make the  First Reformed anniversary special, including distinguished politicians and guests.

Toller is chronicling this special time and all his thoughts in a journal he has vowed to keep writing in for just one year. Schrader uses the journal as a narrative tool which he spoke specifically about at the Chicago Critics Film Festival just prior to the film’s release.



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