Movie Reviews: 'First Reformed' a thought-provoking movie about hope
This image released by A24 shows Ethan Hawke in a scene from "First Reformed." (A24 via AP)
Published Friday, June 1, 2018 6:00AM EDT
FIRST REFORMED: 4 STARS
“First Reformed,” the meditative new film from writer-director Paul Schrader is a movie about hope, specifically, the search for it.
Ethan Hawke is a Father Toller, a former military chaplain at the under attended First Reformed Church. New to the church and still stinging from a troubled past he’s akin to another of Schrader’s creations, “Taxi Driver’s” Travis Bickle. He’s one of God’s lonely men, racked with despair, plagued by stomach problems brought on by drinking and thoughts of ecological failure.
“I think we are supposed to look with the eyes of Jesus into everything,” he says. While overseeing the heritage church he creates his own “form of prayer,” a daily journal where he documents his crisis of faith.
His personal issues are amplified when Mary (Amanda Seyfried), a pregnant parishioner, seeks Toller’s counsel. Her husband Michael (Philip Ettinger), an extreme eco activist, is having second thoughts about bringing a baby into a world he is convinced is dying. His apocalyptic view of the world unsettles Toller, feeding his inner spiritual struggle.
Schrader is most famous for writing “Taxi Driver,” “Raging Bull” and “The Last Temptation of Christ,” all deeply spiritual in their own ways. Here he tackles faith head on in his best film as a director since 2002’s “Auto Focus.”
Questions are asked; answers are left in the ether. It’s a portrait of a man in progress, trying to figure out his place in the world, if there will be a world to be part of. Hawke is subdued, handing in an internal performance that creates tension as Toller waits for God to tell him what to do. It is powerful work complimented by strong performances from Seyfried and Cedric the Entertainer as the condescending mega-church preacher Pastor Jeffers.
Schrader makes some bold choices here—the film is unrelentingly sombre—but most notably with the sudden and ambiguous ending. Toller looks to be finally taking control of his life, although the form of his redemption is left open to interpretation. This is Schrader’s ode to Andrei Tarkovsky and Ingmar Bergman, contemplative filmmakers of the past who essayed questions of theology and spiritual growth without judging their characters.
Uncluttered and edited with laser like attention to detail, “First Reformed” is a thought-provoking movie that bears repeated viewing.
ADRIFT: 2 STARS
“Apocalypse Now,” offers up some life advice in the form of one salient quote about crossing lines and the point of no return. To paraphrase. “Never get out of the boat. Absolutely goshdarn right. Unless you’re going all the way.” In the case of “Adrift,” a new film starring Shailene Woodley, it might have been a good idea to never have gotten on the boat in the first place.
Based on the true story of Tami Oldham (Woodley) and Richard Sharp (Sam Claflin), two sailors who meet disaster on a journey across the Pacific from Tahiti to San Diego, “Adrift” is an adventure tale in search of dramatic tension.
When we first meet her Oldham is a twenty-four-year old on hiatus from real life. Struck with a case of wanderlust, she is metaphorically adrift, jumping from place to place with the goal of making enough money to get to the next port. When she meets experienced seadog Sharp she finds someone who can provide companionship on her travels.
“I’ve never met anyone like you,“ he says. “You’re like a bloke.“ “I’ve never met anyone like you,” she replies. “You’re like a woman.“ Cue the kisses.
The newly minted couple take a job to sail a luxury yacht across the ocean they immediately set off on their nautical adventure. All is well until they sail into a class four tropical storm that goes all “Poseidon Adventure” on the yacht. During the storm that Sharp is banged up, left with a broken leg and ribs. His survival is in her hands. The couple drift for forty-one days, exhausted, dehydrated, delirious and hallucinating but not dead. ‘If this hadn’t happened,” she says, “I wouldn’t have us to remember. I wouldn’t trade this for anything.”
Flashing them backwards and forwards from their courtship, to the trip and the disaster, “Adrift” is choppier than the waves kicked up by the storm. The broken timeline shatters any kind of forward momentum. Just as a scene starts to build some heat director Baltasar Kormákur jumps around, skipping through time like a flat stone skimming along the water.
In his interpretation of the material director Kormákur seems intent on creating a new genre, the Young Adult Disaster Romance. The film leads up to the storm, an exciting-ish climax in a movie where nothing interesting happens until the final moments. The romance segments have a light feel, brightly coloured, set to bouncy music. They are cut, in sharp contrast, against the stark scenes of survival.
Throughout Woodley and Claflin speak to one another in lines seemingly ripped from a Harlequin Romance Jr. “I sailed around the road to find you,” Richard coos. “I’m not letting you go.” “I just want to go everywhere with you,” she replies. How juvenile is it? It takes them 18 days at sea to discover the booze below deck. Any mature disaster artist would have found it in hours.
"Adrift” is meant to be a voyage of self-discovery but is a little more than a trip to the Young Adult section of the library. With little to no insight on the characters and uneven storytelling, for most of the running time “Adrift” is just that… adrift.
BLACK COP: 3 ½ STARS
Cory Bowles, writer and director of “Black Cop,” is best known for his work as an actor on “Trailer Park Boys.” He is also a choreographer, a musician and theatre director. He mixes and matches all those disciplines, cherry picking the best of his experience for his vision of “Black Cop,” a film about racial profiling that is one part social comment and two parts performance piece.
Ronnie Rowe Jr. is the title character, a police officer whose life changes after he is racially profiled by another cop. Taking justice into his own hands Black Cop becomes involved in a series of escalating situations while on duty. He draws his gun on a man picking up his bike at school. A young couple are left handcuffed by their car after a traffic stop. A doctor out on a jog is brutally beaten. In each case the perpetrators are white and disobey direct orders from Black Cop.
It’s a striking reversal of the kind of footage we’ve become accustomed to seeing on the nightly news, and makes a timely and powerful statement on the interaction of law enforcement and members of marginalized communities.
Interspersed between the patrol scenes are monologues on the nature of subjugation and subservience. Layered on top is a propulsive jazz and hip hop soundtrack that underscores and compliments the narrative.
“Black Cop’s” story doesn’t end so much as it stops, suggesting the ills it portrays—racial profiling, police brutality—haven’t ended either. It’s a nervy finish to a movie that entertainingly tackles serious subjects head on. In a terrific performance Rowe, who appears in almost every frame of the film, earns both revulsion and empathy as he explores the emotions of the character.
By the time the end credits roll though it is Bowles who emerges as the star. His bold criss-crossing of disciplines and use of satire makes for a thought provoking examination of a hot button topic.