First Hit: A slow paced, thoughtful, story about a confused tormented priest.
In upstate New York there is a small church called First Reformed. Its leader is Reverend Toller (Ethan Hawke) who is troubled because of his past military experience and from losing his son. He’s also ignoring his illness, has a small congregation of six or seven people, and drinks a lot to push his troubles away.
He begins to start a journal which serves, from time to time, as a voice over during the film.
The church is going to celebrate it’s 250th anniversary and the big famous church in town, led by Pastor Jeffers (Cedric the Entertainer) is sponsoring the celebration. The celebration will have the mayor, the governor and a leading business executive – specifically a deep pocket financial partner named Edward Balq (Michael Gaston) who owns a company that pollutes the environment.
The complications in the story come from Mary (Amanda Seyfried) and her husband Michael (Phillip Ettinger). She’s pregnant, he wants Mary to abort the child because the polluted world the child will be born into is not something he can support. Michael is a serious environmental activist. This is born out when Mary finds a vest bomb he's made. Mary has asks Reverend Tollar to step in and help. This is difficult for Tollar.
Also, Toller’s ex-wife works for Pastor Jeffers and wants to be involved in Toller’s life but he’s pushes her away whenever possible.
The key in this story is about Michael’s activism and how it affects Reverend Toller. Toller thinks about what is happening to the earth and plans to make a big statement about this at the celebration because he dislikes Balq’s attitude and Pastor Jeffers’ control and support of Balq’s polluting company.
The pacing was very methodical and therefore the film was long. I think it could have been tightened up a bit. The ending was a bit odd as well, and it fit the overall films oddity.
Hawke is strong as the tormented reverend. He’s good in these types of roles and here he continues to excel. Seyfried is excellent as the confused activist wife whose opinion was changed by her own pregnancy. Cedric the Entertainer was very strong as the Pastor of his big time evangelical church. Ettinger was good as the confused and depressed Michael. Gaston was strong as the business man who thinks money fixes everything. Victoria Hill (as Esther, Toller’s ex-wife) was excellent. Her care and out reach was perfectly annoying to Toller. Paul Schrader wrote and directed this film. I liked the dialogue, however the pacing was just a little too slow for me.
Overall: This film is complex in that it is about, environment issues, loss, abortion, religion and big business all mixed into one story.