Ethan Hawke in First Reformed.

Ethan Hawke is on fire in First Reformed, a return to form for writer-director Paul Schrader, the man who penned Taxi Driver and Raging Bull—and directed American Gigolo 38 years ago.

Hawke plays the Rev. Ernst Toller, a priest in an historical church located in upstate New York. Toller holds up well in front of his congregation, but behind the scenes, he’s a mess: He’s an alcoholic; he is haunted by the loss of his son; he’s stricken with self-imposed loneliness; and he may have cancer.

When a congregation member (Amanda Seyfried) requests he speak to her husband (Philip Ettinger), a manically depressed environmentalist, it sparks something within Toller. He starts to doubt his place in the world, the hypocrisy of his religious organization, and his own ability to lead. His chief religious adviser, the Rev. Joel Jeffers (an excellent Cedric the Entertainer, aka Cedric Antonio Kyles), tells him he’s worried—and the downward spiral accelerates.

I have said it before, and I’ll say it again: Hawke just gets better with age. He makes Toller as memorable of a character as Taxi Driver’s Travis Bickle. It’s a barnburner performance in a stunner of a movie.

First Reformed is available via online sources including iTunes and; it’s available on DVD and Blu-Ray on Aug. 21.