The film features a multitudinous array of parallels with Ingmar Bergman's Winter Light. This is one of Paul Schrader's mountains, and feels like a summation to his art. The aspect ratio, the stinging, biting cinematographic unease conjured by the picture's stark cinematography, Ethan Hawke's sensational, mesmerizing performance.. Everything First Reform presents haunts, bewitches, chills. This effort is latter day Schrader's mightiest swing for the fences. Achingly well-written with empathy for all characters but next to no reachable solace for any, the film is about how people address the gaping gulf, the merciless, vexing void which exists in their lives and must be addressed. Hawke's pastor eloquently contending that wisdom rests in comprehending the duality of hope and despair and accepting that paradigm is as lucid as it is captivating.
Channeling Robert Bresson yet again, as he did so many times before in his career, most pointedly with the endings to both American Gigolo (where the appropriation admittedly failed for the most part) and Light Sleeper (where it worked perfectly), borrowing from the final visual and audial note of Bresson's Pickpocket each time, here Schrader adopts and adapts a loose rearranging of the set-up and protagonist from Diary of a Country Priest. Here, much as with Bresson's 1951 drama, Schrader doggedly follows the internal battle within the "country priest" or pastor as he passionately posits that in a world atomized beyond the point of pervasive loneliness, the act of loving someone or nurturing one's own troubled faith or finding solace in expansive political causes, even when adopting deeply flawed methods, find in their common root the bitter, suffocating void.