First Reformed

Critics Consensus

Brought to life by delicate work from writer-director Paul Schrader and elevated by a standout performance by Ethan Hawke, First Reformed takes a sensitive and suspenseful look at weighty themes.



Total Count: 232


Audience Score

User Ratings: 3,245
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Movie Info

Reverend Ernst Toller (Ethan Hawke) is a solitary, middle-aged parish pastor at a small Dutch Reform church in upstate New York on the cusp of celebrating its 250th anniversary. Once a stop on the Underground Railroad, the church is now a tourist attraction catering to a dwindling congregation, eclipsed by its nearby parent church, Abundant Life, with its state-of-the-art facilities and 5,000-strong flock. When a pregnant parishioner (Amanda Seyfried) asks Reverend Toller to counsel her husband, a radical environmentalist, the clergyman finds himself plunged into his own tormented past, and equally despairing future, until he finds redemption in an act of grandiose violence. From writer-director Paul Schrader (Taxi Driver; American Gigolo; Affliction) comes a gripping thriller about a crisis of faith that is at once personal, political, and planetary.


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Critic Reviews for First Reformed

All Critics (232) | Top Critics (41) | Fresh (216) | Rotten (16)

  • First Reformed is a bleak, punishing movie and the furthest thing imaginable from an easy crowdpleaser. But Hawke juices it with an austere sense of grace.

    Dec 26, 2018 | Rating: B | Full Review…
  • Schrader is the divine mortal who wrote Taxi Driver and Raging Bull. He's as passionate as ever; what he has lost is his discipline.

    Jul 17, 2018 | Rating: 3/5 | Full Review…
  • Yet ultimately it's so good, and the attention to truthfulness so intense, that Schrader writes himself into a narrative dead end and to a conclusion that bounces, within a few short minutes, from shocking to preposterous to silly to schmaltzy.

    Jul 12, 2018 | Rating: 4/5 | Full Review…

    Kevin Maher

    Times (UK)
    Top Critic
  • Shaker furniture in movie form - stark, plain, conceived in austere and intelligent good taste; beautifully made, in fact, but maybe more designed for looking at than actually sitting on.

    Jul 12, 2018 | Rating: 4/5 | Full Review…
  • Is it too early to call this Schrader's masterpiece?

    Jul 10, 2018 | Rating: 5/5 | Full Review…
  • The latest film from pugnacious director/writer Paul Schrader is as austere and revelatory as a church confessional...It's a bleak portrait of a man in the midst of a spiritual breakdown that is only slightly undone by its rather unsatisfying conclusion.

    Jun 7, 2018 | Rating: 4/5 | Full Review…

Audience Reviews for First Reformed

  • Jun 02, 2019
    Ethan Hawke and Amanda Seyfried star in the dark character drama First Reformed. When a minister is asked to help a depressed environmental activist who ends up committing suicide, he takes up the environmentalist's cause and becomes radicalized. Hawke gives a really good performance and does an excellent job at showing the spiritual struggle that the character goes through. Also, director Paul Schrader does an impressive job at creating an intense and atmospheric tone. However, the film becomes a little propaganda-ish and takes a pretty hard turn toward extremism without much explanation as to why the minister suddenly takes up this cause to the exclusion of all others or how he's able to reconcile his violent intentions with his faith. Yet while it has its issues, First Reform is an incredibly provocative and challenging film.
    Dann M Super Reviewer
  • Mar 13, 2019
    Slow and calm drama in 4:3 aspect ratio (which fits the mood perfectly) and almost entirely static camera work, relying mostly on its writing and the great acting. The tension builds up slowly, without reading about the premise you wonder for a while where the film might actually take you. In the end it has you by the collar and doesn't stop shaking. There are several themes and ideas coming together here, but for me what stands out is the big bitch slap for Christian conservatives in the US backing the wrong orange faced horses these days.
    Jens S Super Reviewer
  • Feb 03, 2019
    I don't believe I've ever seen a film shot so deliberately. Almost every single angle is framed with precision and intent. Like a Wes Anderson film sapped of any and all whimsy. Many shots linger in a style not often found outside of horror films, in the scenes they intend to deliver the audience a scare that its characters do not see.
    Gimly M Super Reviewer
  • Dec 10, 2018
    Whether one knows they know his work or not, most who pay attention in some capacity to the film world are usually influenced by or at least familiar with the work of writer/director Paul Schrader. The writer of Scorsese classics such as Taxi Driver and Raging Bull as well as being the director of American Gigolo and Auto Focus, Schrader has made a career out of analyzing the psyches of tortured male souls and their having to grapple with the varied struggles and conflicts their environment and/or time in history dictated them to deal with. In First Reformed, the writer/director is very much speaking to the time in which the film has been made as this is a story of a man full of anxieties and uncertainties despite his outward facade of peace and a certain serene stillness that only such measured priests can uphold. Being the sometimes cocky, but mostly guilt-ridden Catholic that I am I wrongfully assumed that First Reformed was about a Catholic priest coming to terms with the quarrels his mind could no longer ignore and facing this crisis of faith with what the movie could only determine to surprise us with, but in fact First Reformed does not care to follow such a repeated quandary, but is instead the tale of a man who was beaten down by life long before he decided to make the church his one and only true love as Ethan Hawke portrays Reverend Toller, a man who found something of a lucky break in being appointed the priest for a small congregation in upstate New York whose building is now more of a tourist attraction than a place of worship. What this less imposing set of expectations doesn't change though, is that of the DNA of Christianity and how these inherent leanings impose themselves on the psychology of those that are the truest of believers: the ones that feel the most conflict over the many contradictory if not often well-intentioned teachings of the faith. Toller is a man who sees himself as something of a courier for Christ despite constantly questioning his worthiness of such a status. As Toller is in a spiral, as he is literally and metaphorically dying on the inside, he comes to a path that many a Christians seem to find a paradoxical peace in: their own sacrifices. Jesus made the ultimate sacrifice, so why am I excused from such an act? To suffer means to earn salvation is what then becomes the mentality once becoming so engrossed in the religion, but as Toller at one point poses, "Who can know the mind of God?" he at another derives what is necessary to please God in his own and from this perspective, twisted way, thus painting the broad themes of contradiction and discountedness that inform First Reformed.
    Philip P Super Reviewer

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