Directed by Paul Schrader
A clergyman gives up on our world.
On its face, Paul Schrader’s latest film is “borderline absurd,” said Owen Gleiberman in Variety. Even though Ethan Hawke is convincing in the lead role, he is playing a tortured rural pastor who finds redemption in the prospect of becoming a suicide bomber. Schrader, of course, has been creating studies of similarly driven, broken men since writing the screenplay for Taxi Driver. But Hawke’s Ernst Toller is “like a graphic-novel version of Travis Bickle”—the savior complex and potential for violence all right up front. Still, “the more over-the-top it gets, the more you can’t stop watching.” Toller’s isolation is punctured when a pregnant parishioner seeks his help, said Richard Brody in NewYorker.com. Her husband, a radical environmentalist, wants the baby aborted to prevent adding another life to a doomed world, and when Toller first counsels the younger man, the intense conversation they have proves to be “one of the mind-bending treasures of recent cinema.” The discovery of a suicide vest raises the stakes in a film that feels like a distillation of Schrader’s career, said Nick Schager in TheDailyBeast.com. “It’s at once ascetic and expressionistic, bleak and cautiously optimistic, nuanced and blunt.” It also reconfirms Schrader as one of filmdom’s “most fearsome and titanic talents.” ■