Rating (2.5 out of 5)
Summary: “First Reformed” is an award winning movie for the first 3/4 of the film, and falls apart with a peculiar ending. For me, the movie became about global warming more than a man undergoing a crisis of faith. When the nature of the film changed, the movie lost a subtly and charm was lost.
If you loved last year’s “Ghost Story”, “First Reformed” is probably perfect for you and ignore my rating. If you are more like me, and the pie scene in “Ghost Story” just irritates the hell out of you, this is the review for you to trust.
Plot: Toller (Ethan Hawke) is pastor at First Reformed church, which is having a 250th birthday celebration. While planning the celebration, a parishioner Mary (Amanda Seyfried) asks Toller to counsel her environmental activist husband.
Detail: “First Reformed” starts well and Toller’s personal challenges interested me, but then “First Reformed” takes a sudden turn. “First Reformed” morphed into a climate change, anti-big company movie. SPOILER! Toller then plans blowing-up the church using the suicide vest Mary’s husband developed. The change ruined the movie for me.
Another profound change in the tone of the movie occurred in a scene between Mary and Toller. Mary visits the church to talk to Toller after her husband has died, and they end up lying on top of one other. As they lie there, they start floating, then disappear into the stars, blah, blah, blah. This is when the movie changed from being about a priest struggling with his faith, into simply weird.
There were interesting themes introduced but then dropped. Toller’s church as a museum/gift store rather than a functional church. The dichotomy of believing in Jesus Christ and the church versus the modern times, war, environment, business, etc explored extremely briefly. These themes then as viewed by the youth, were opportunities for the film to deeply explore faith. The movie even touched on the mechanics of the large church and the good the large church serves the broader community, versus faith. I would have enjoyed if Toller had challenged his faith more in exploring just one of these topics.
SPOILER! The end sequence secured my low rating. I am positive, I missed the strong symbolism interlaced in the scene. Toller plans to blow up the attendees of the 250th event at the church and then changes his mind because Mary attends. Instead of blowing up the church, he tortures himself by wrapping his body in barbed wire. As Toller and Mary are kissing in his room the movie suddenly ends. Aagh!