First Reformed ★★★★½

You can see elements of Taxi Driver in this, Schrader's latest character study, except of the Vietnam War our anti-hero was railing against, here its pretty much everything that pushes Ethan Hawke's slowly unravelling priest over the edge.

Beginning as a musing on environmentalism and social responsibility as Hawke is called by a luminous Amanda Seyfried to counsel her husband, it slowly brings much bigger targets into its sights - the general apathy the modern institutions have against socio-political issues; the links between the church and big business; even the role of the church in modern society. And its all beautifully played out against the backdrop of Hawke's soul, a quiet man, harbouring simmering resentment at personal tragedy and spurred into a sudden need for action by a terrible event and some deeply upsetting personal news.........

Hawke is amazing in this - we know he can do quiet introspection, but in this he barely controls his rage - a shocking scene in a church stairwell, him showing utter contempt for a possible past lover in the most awful way is a real stop you in your tracks moment due to its utter brutality. And even though the film slowly build towards an inexorable conclusion, small moments crop up that make you doubt what's going to happen, ending on a rather ambiguous note that may symbolise both the darkness and the light of this troubled soul.

Its rather brilliant stuff. The only downside is a dream sequence that plays out like a cheap music video and feels very out of place with the rest of the film, even if, come that ambiguous conclusion, its place in the film is shown to be necessary for the audience to understand those final scenes. But this is utterly compelling, a bold mix of so many themes, a realistic portrayal of a complex man driven by a complex world to do complex things.

Highly recommended.

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