|Ethan Hawke as The Reverend Toller|
In Aldeburgh on the coast of Suffolk there's a little cinema called...wait for it... The Aldeburgh Cinema. Last Wednesday I went there on my own to see "First Reformed" starring Ethan Hawke as Reverend Ernst Toller. Shirley didn't fancy the film so she stayed back in our rental apartment knitting and watching "Sunshine on Leith" once again.
"First Reformed" is an austere film located in Snowbridge, New York. Though it is set in modern times, the atmosphere is quiet. There are no car chases or computers or madly ringing cell phones. Our focus is almost wholly on Reverend Toller and his troubled state of mind. He finds it hard to pray and has issues with alcohol and his former wife Esther who is still part of the church community. Toller appears to be particularly affected by the pointless death of his son in The Iraq War.
Cinematographically, the film includes many thoughtfully captured scenes and moments which add a certain depth and beauty to the look of "First Reformed". It could almost be black and white but it isn't. It's Snowbridge in wintertime and you can almost feel the cold.
The ending is surprising. Some cinema-goers might feel cheated by it and at Aldeburgh there was an audible grumbling of dissent in the audience when they realised the show was over. Later, as Clint took me home, I was still thinking about that problematic ending and as I showered on Thursday morning I continued contemplating it. I do not wish to give any more about the ending away in case you get to see "First Reformed" yourself.
Themes that the film touches upon include global warming, religious belief, mental health and the modus operandi of big business church organisations.
Full marks to Ethan Hawke. His performance was a tour de force and applause too for the writer and director Paul Schrader. I must say I was quietly gripped throughout the film. There's an engaging melancholy about it all so I recognise that it might not be everybody's cup of tea but for me it was the best film I have seen in several months.