James’s review published on Letterboxd:
I've experienced the strength of Paul Schrader's screenwriting ability several times in his collaborations with Martin Scorsese but had yet to see any of his directorial work, something I'm determined to rectify with the upcoming release of First Reformed, which is getting some serious hype from those who haven't had to wait an age for it to cross the atlantic.
Turns out he can write and direct with equal proficiency, as demonstrated in this intense and radically charged debut set among the smokestacks and factories of working class Detroit. There's a grittiness and acerbic intelligence that only escalates as the narrative plays out, but the comedic presence of Richard Pryor isn't wasted and Schrader sets up his film almost intentionally as a humorous entertainment piece, which it very much is until revealing itself as a powerhouse drama soon after, the shift in tones masterfully handled.
Pryor gives a hell of a performance, volatile and wildly unpredictable he steals the show, though Harvey Keitel's understated, coolheaded performance is complementary, with Yaphet Kotto mediating somewhere in between, which makes for a compelling group dynamic between the three friends. The monotonous, repetitive rhythms of the blues score pulse in harmony with the factory machinery, the indifferent mass production of corporate America bearing down on the working class man with all its might.
A confident, powerful debut.