Rated R for gore, questionable theological issues, discussions about abortion, violence, implied sexuality, and language. It's A24 and it is meant to be shocking. This one almost seems like it is trying too hard. There are real moments when it seems to be a real movie, but then is crushed by the expectations that the movie should somehow be offensive to people of faith. A well deserved R.
DIRECTOR: Paul Schrader
Some movies were destined to throw you onto a rollercoaster of emotions. In this case, the rollercoaster consisted if I absolutely loved the movie or absolutely hated the movie. The first thing I thought when I ended the film is that I've never had a movie present such a great first and second acts and then completely botch the third act. I don't know if that is hyperbole by placing this one in a category all by itself, but it is up there on the list. Man, I loved the beginning so so much. I was ready to call a mulligan for not having seen this one earlier. Honestly, I don't think I would have watched it if it wasn't up for Best Screenplay. But then the movie just went completely downhill.
I can't help but compare it to mother! for oh so many reasons. mother! wanted to do something complex and challenging. It wanted to be in your face and it didn't want to let go. But in the third act, the movie gets aggressive and lose all sense of subtlety. Part of this is preaching to the choice. Ironically, whenever a movie tries taking down religion or organized religion, it never really tries speaking to the faithful. Instead, it talks to those who are already against organized religion. I don't know if it is an anger thing or what, but the ends of these movies are completely over-the-top and incomprehensible. Film should challenge us. While I am a devout Catholic, I don't want to hide from art. Art should be challenging and good art has the power to change the world. I'm not going to watch things that are just going to confirmation bias me. First Reformed, from its very first trailer, looked like it was just going to be hitting those with faith with a stick. Okay, fine. Paul Schrader, famous for Taxi Driver, started really accomplishing something pretty impressive with the first two acts of his movie. Rather than simply screaming about how dumb the faithful were, Schrader takes the movie from a far more grounded perspective. Rather a direct attack on institutionalized religion (admittedly, mega churches are condemned pretty quickly), Schrader posits a question that we don't often address from a faith based community. I used to be annoyed by environmentalists. I blame Penn & Teller's Showtime show for this. I'm still not all rah-rah about the environment, which made the beginning of First Reformed a bit of a gut punch. Normally I don't love when characters just infodump through dialogue important philosophies, like I Heart Huckabees. But the dialogue between Reverend Toller and Michael is actually kind of illuminating. It dumps the narrative into a new aspect of the pro-life debate. I'm extremely pro-life. That's probably going to come up with a future review of RBG. Hearing Ethan Hawke argue life pretty well was encouraging. But I also sympathized with Michael. He's wrong, of course. But from his perspective, it's not that he is listing the handful of uncomfortable moments about abortion. Rather, he's afraid for the world. That's an interesting perspective on the whole thing.
Film is great. It can challenge us. It can entertain us. It can puzzle us. It can awaken us.
Mr. H has watched an upsetting amount of movies. They bring him a level of joy that few things have achieved.