A rea­son to be­lieve

In First Re­formed, ac­tor Ethan Hawke and di­rec­tor Paul Schrader are on a path to glory

Esquire (UK) - - Culture -

Paul Schrader is not the first cre­ative type to be hoisted by his own genius. No mat­ter what else he has done — di­rect­ing Amer­i­can Gigolo, co-writ­ing Rag­ing Bull

— he will for­ever be the guy who wrote Taxi Driver. But per­haps, know­ing that the first line of your obit­u­ary has al­ready been writ­ten, brings with it a cer­tain free­dom — a re­al­i­sa­tion that you can do what you want, be­cause no one will al­low it to su­per­sede your ear­lier achieve­ments any­way.

Which is maybe how First Re­formed came about. Schrader wrote and di­rected this stir­ring por­trait of an­other tor­tured loner, Fa­ther Toller, played by Ethan Hawke, who is strug­gling to rec­on­cile his own per­sonal mis­for­tune with the dwin­dling for­tunes of his church, a neat up­state New York es­tab­lish­ment, that has been taken over by a neigh­bour­ing mega-church.

Then into his life comes a new prob­lem — or per­haps a so­lu­tion — a preg­nant young woman (Amanda Seyfried) whose hus­band, Michael, is so fear­ful of the forth­com­ing en­vi­ron­men­tal apoc­a­lypse that he wants her to get an abor­tion. She wants Fa­ther Toller to talk to him. Oh, and just in case this all sounded a bit lit­eral and Earthly, her name is Mary. Toller’s con­ver­sa­tions with Michael force the rev­erend to con­front his own bur­geon­ing cri­sis of faith, as much as he tries to ex­tol it to his trou­bled young in­ter­locu­tor. It be­comes a race to see ex­actly who will fall apart first, and how.

The end­ing of First Re­formed has caused some de­bate and it cer­tainly won’t be to ev­ery­one’s taste (or com­pre­hen­sion). But this mys­te­ri­ous, mes­meris­ing film — with an ut­terly com­pelling per­for­mance from Hawke

— is one of the kind you only feel brave enough to make when you think maybe no one’s watch­ing. Seventy-one-year-old Schrader said he felt that First Re­formed would make for a “pretty good last film”, but he may well find the pres­sure’s back on.

Keep­ing the faith: Ethan Hawke and Amanda Seyfried star in First Re­formed irst Re­formed is out on 13 July

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