Press

10 Best Movies of the 2017 Toronto Film Festival
09.18.2017
Author: Peter Debruge and Owen Gleiberman

First Reformed

Paul Schrader, in his most vital film since “Auto Focus” (2002), has made an austere religious thriller that’s like “Diary of a Country Priest” crossed with “Rolling Thunder.” It’s a movie that spans the director’s art/pulp obsessions with a reach as arresting as it is (knowingly) nutty. It’s about a pensive, melancholy reverend in upstate New York, deftly played by Ethan Hawke, who finds redemption in the prospect of becoming an eco-terrorist suicide bomber. Taken literally, the film is borderline absurd, yet it feels like a testament. The Hawke character’s transformation is a piece of 1970s grindhouse psychology — he’s like a graphic-novel version of Travis Bickle. The weirdest thing about “First Reformed” is that the more extreme it gets, the more you can’t stop watching. The climax is an epiphany of cleansing sin that both courts respectability and leaves it in the dust.

– O.G.

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