REVIEW: First Reformed a return to form for controversial director

‘Writer/director Paul Schrader has had a rocky career.

From Taxi Driver’s beautiful screenplay to one too many pairings with Nicolas Cage, he’s been a formidable force for controversy in film for 40 years.

With First Reformed — his meditation on religion and its place in society — he creates his best, most beautiful work in decades.

Ethan Hawke gives a stunning performance as a small-town priest haunted by his difficult past, and the pain of his revelations and testing of his faith are written on the actor’s face.

Schrader pulls the very best from supporting actors Cedric the Entertainer and Amanda Seyfried, and not one thing in the meticulous offering feels out of place.

It’s the feel-bad, bleak film of the summer, and it’s the most challenging film thematically of the year so far.

If, at 72, all of Schrader’s late-career work is as contemplative and confrontational as this, I’ll be happy to see the director find a return to form again.

5/5 Stars

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