First Reformed (2018)

First Reformed

Ethan Hawke as Toller, the minister of the First Reformed Church.

 

The term “career best performance” is one I am not fond of. How do we know it is the best performance of a career, provided they will be in more films in the future?  Also, any audience member (critic or not) will not be able to see every film a certain actor (or actress) has starred in.

That all being said, it is hard to argue with those who have said that Ethan Hawke gives the best performance of his career in First Reformed. Even if the Oscars don’t come calling, it does not take away how authentic and down right brilliant he is. He stars as Ernst Toller, a minister at the First Reformed Church in present New York. The normal daily routine for Toller consists of reporting to his supervisors, waiting on the organ to be fixed, and taking care of the plumbing. He fails to see that he is also having a moderate drinking problem. His narration is from a journal he has decided to keep doing daily for a full year.

One day, he is visited by a member of the flock, Mary (Amanda Seyfried). Her Husband Michael (Philip Ettinger) is a form of environmentalist (as is Mary), but also suffers from depression, and he seeks out the Minister after Mary becomes pregnant. His beliefs do become somewhat of an interest to Toller.

The movie is much more than just what happens to characters we meet: It revolves mainly on Toller’s own faith in God as well as humanity. Director/Writer Paul Schrader (who penned Scorsese classics Taxi Driver and Raging Bull) gives us still shots with little to no movement (reminding me of that great Japenese master Ozu) yet still allows the story to boil with electricity.

As stated before, the performance by Hawke cannot be understated enough. He gives this character as much depth as any I have seen in a film this year. Consider the scene he has with Esther (Victoria Hill), a co-worker who it is hinted that Toller has had a history with before. This scene happens later in the film, and is the one where Toller completely draws the line. You will know it when you see it, and it is the one that would most likely be playing come Oscar night should Hawke get the (much deserved) nomination.

Parents, the film is not for kids. Though it is not a hard R, it does have some good amount of swearing and violence. The subject matter would be far too intense for anyone younger than High School age.

The movie does has flaws (though rather suspenseful, the last two minutes or so disappointed me a little). There is also a possibility that some may be turned off by the politics mentioned in the film. Thankfully, regardless of your beliefs, the performance by Ethan Hawke will appeal to anyone who likes cinematic acting.

 

Overall: Four Stars ****

Silence (2016)

silence

Rodrigues (Andrew Garfield) trying to spread hope, as well as gain it.

Movies can be divided into two categories: ones you can watch over and over again, and the others that are best watched at least once. If I had to pick which categories to put Martin Scorsese’s newest classic, Silence, into, my first gut reaction would be the latter. It is brutal, gritty, and hard to watch much of the time. Yet it is also a movie that has so many moments that are open to interpretation that you would need to see it more than once.

The story seems simple, yet when it is a Marty Scorsese movie, it is always so much more than that. During the 1630s (and when was the last time you saw a movie made during that time?), two missionaries named Rodrigues (Andrew Garfield, who had a great 2016 after working with Mel Gibson on Hacksaw Ridge) and Garrpe (Adam Driver) venture out to Japan to find their mentor Ferreira (Liam Neeson). There are obviously great set pieces and beautiful imagery, but the situation that these two are in take any hope out of it. The authorities are cracking down hard on anyone proclaiming themselves to be christian. Even a hint of it in your life would mean your death, unless you were willing to step (“trample”) on the image of Christ.

The title of the movie holds many meanings. For one, it is about how Rodrigues and Garrpe seem to think how Silence is the only thing they have responding to their prayers. On the other  hand, it could also mean that the movie itself has (as far as I could tell) little musical score, if any at all. All we hear are wails of Christians dying, the waves of the sea, the drops of rain (and sometimes blood), panting from exhaustion, and so on.

The acting is extremely effective. It would be hard for you to watch this movie, and think that it is about Kylo Ren (Star Wars: The Force Awakens) and “the Amazing” Spider-Man going to save Qui-Gon Jinn/Oskar Schindler/Bryan Mills (Taken)/any of the other roles we associate with Liam Neeson. Instead, you are thinking of how these two young priests are starting to realize, little by little, that they are going in way over their head.

Parents, it should come as no surprise that this movie is definitely not for kids. There is no sexuality (some rear end nudity of the Japanese), or really any swearing. It is mainly due to the violence, which is generally revolved around the torture that the citizens have to endure. High School and above only.

I admit the movie does tend to go on a little bit, but it still does not change my view that Silence is another movie to mention in Scorsese’s immaculate resume (I admit I have not seen all of his movies, but who can argue against titles like Taxi Driver, Raging Bull, or Goodfellas?) Silence also proves its title with the effect on the audience. No talking, no cellphones ringing, just the still audience absorbing the screen (there was a time when I had to move my hand to make sure it was getting circulation.)

It may have come out just at the end of 2016, but Silence is still clearly one of the year’s very best films.

 

Overall: Four and a half Stars **** 1/2