First Reformed (2018) — PICK

The Rider (2018) — PICK

Two of the year’s best films with religious themes are among the latest home-video releases.

Of the two, The Rider is the more accessible and easily recommended. Set in the Dakota badlands, it tells a fact-inspired story about a young Lakota Sioux rodeo star named Brady who suffers a nearly fatal riding accident.

Chloé Zhao’s drama explores the lives of characters living with various kinds of brokenness, including Brady’s autistic sister, Lilly, and his best friend, Lane, a paraplegic.

Through all this, Brady’s Christian faith is an understated but essential dimension of his response to the difficulties he faces.

Written and directed by Paul Schrader, First Reformed is a more explicitly theological film, but also a darker, more despairing one.

Ethan Hawke plays a rural pastor whose involvement with a depressed environmental activist and his wife marks a fateful turning point in his life.

While the film holds out little hope of redemption, it is full of “longing for redemption” (Pope St. John Paul II, “Letter to Artists”).


Caveat Spectator: First Reformed: Some disturbing images and mature themes; brief rude humor. Adults. The Rider: Some wince-inducing images of the aftermath of serious injuries; much harsh language; some drug usage and other mature themes. Older teens and up.