Bil’s rating (out of 5): BBBB. USA/United Kingdom/Australia, 2017. Killer Films, Fibonacci Films, Arclight Films, Big Indie Pictures, Omeira Studio Partners. Screenplay by Paul Schrader. Cinematography by Alexander Dynan. Produced by Jack Binder, Greg Clark, Gary Hamilton, Victoria Hill, David Hinojosa, Frank Murray, Deepak Sikka, Christine Vachon. Music by Brian Williams. Production Design by Grace Yun. Costume Design by Olga Mill. Film Editing by Benjamin Rodriguez Jr.. Academy Awards 2018. Independent Spirit Awards 2018. New York Film Critics 2018. Toronto International Film Festival 2017.
Ethan Hawke gives a mysterious performance in Paul Schrader’s best film in years, a meditation on faith and morality that takes inspiration from the likes of Dreyer and Bresson while incorporating the director’s own familiar undercurrent of dread. Hawke plays the minister at a centuries-old church whose parishioners are few in number but whose historical value (it was once a stop on the Underground Railroad) makes it popular with tourists. His commitment to his job as counselor is tested by the request made by Amanda Seyfried (also excellent) to counsel her depressed husband, an environmental activist whose experience after having been arrested for his activities has made him question the nature and purpose of being alive. This morass of guilt and skepticism happens at the same time that Hawke is having to deal with the pending re-consecration of his church, which is being overseen by the megachurch that owns the property and whose director (Cedric Antonio Kyles, aka Cedric the Entertainer) is increasingly concerned with the pending ceremonies. Hawke’s experiences travel a route familiar to those who know they’re watching a movie by the guy who wrote Taxi Driver, a trip down a rabbit hole of fear and a loosening grip on reality and belief that take our conflicted hero to a very powerful ending. What’s so satisfying about this movie is that it has a gravity throughout, the slow movement of the plot and the lengthy, still shots of near-empty religious spaces feels important and weighty without ever veering into the pretentious or, no pun intended, preachy. A third-act voyage into the surreal is handled with the right level of humour and is perfectly appropriate to a film that heads into such a spiritual realm.