** ½ (out of 4)
Paul Schrader has had his fair share of ups and downs in his decades-long career as a director-screenwriter. At their best, his works demonstrate a masterful use of technique, and they effectively capture the alienation and pent-up resentment that can drive individuals towards extremism. (Think Travis Bickle in Taxi Driver, which Schrader wrote.) At their worst, however, Schrader’s films are too didactic for comfort, undermining themselves with their stubborn insistence on reiterating the same basic messages over and over. (For two characteristic examples of this, see Blue Collar and Affliction, both of which Schrader directed and wrote.)
In some ways, First Reformed constitutes a synthesis of Schrader’s best and worst traits, combining his focus on individual alienation, his stylistic prowess, and his monotonous didacticism to make a work that’s interesting but ultimately flawed.