Spotlight on the Stars: Ethan Hawke

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If you’re a fan of cinema, chances are, you’re also a fan of Ethan Hawke. The multi-hyphenate actor/writer/director has made a career out of exploring interesting avenues. As stated once before in a look at the man, there seems to be almost nothing that Hawke can not do. He’s directed films (including a documentary), written novels, starred in tiny indies, large scale movies, and everything in between. He’s likely best known for his collaborations with Richard Linklater, but they hardly define the man. A four time Academy Award nominee, he’s a perfect candidate for a Spotlight piece. After all, if he ever gets to a fifth Oscar nomination without a win, he’ll be hugely overdue for a statue.

Hawke’s new film is, of course, First Reformed, which pairs him with filmmaker Paul Schrader. The movie is described cryptically as follows on IMDb: “A former military chaplain is wracked by grief over the death of his son. Mary is a member of his church whose husband, a radical environmentalist, commits suicide, setting the plot in motion.” Hawke plays Toller, a man of the cloth who will have his faith tested. When Mary (Amanda Seyfried) comes to him with concerns about her husband, he sets up a meeting. Unable to change the mind of the environmentalist, who has an extreme plan in mind, he begins growing closer to Mary. At the same time, his view on the world starts to change, for multiple reasons. Without spoiling anything, where he ends up towards the end is rather shocking. Schrader writes and directs, with the supporting cast including Cedric the Entertainer (credited as Cedric Kyles), Philip Ettinger, Michael Gaston, Van Hansis, Victoria Hill, and more. It’s a very meditative work, which won’t be for everyone, but if you love Hawke, this is another strong turn from the actor.


This is how I would rank Hawke’s best performances to date:

10. Good Kill
9. Before the Devil Knows You’re Dead
8. Dead Poets Society
7. Before Sunrise
6. First Reformed
5. Reality Bites
4. Before Sunset
3. Training Day
2. Before Midnight
1. Boyhood

Honorable Mention: Born to Be Blue, In a Valley of Violence, Lord of War, The Phenom, Predestination, Stockholm,


Here’s something I wrote exactly three years ago when I called Hawke one of the most underrated actors in Hollywood:

Not to hammer the point home, but Hawke pretty much can do anything. If you look just at what the Academy has noticed, he’s got a pair of Best Supporting Actor nominations to his credit, alongside a pair of nods in the Best Adapted Screenplay category. He’s been cited by Oscar more than once in each field, and while none of those noms have turned into wins, they always show something different. Before Midnight is different than Before Sunset, which is different than Boyhood, which is nothing like Training Day. Those are jus the times he’s been in contention for awards…that’s just the tip of the iceberg, if we’re really looking at Hawke.

Besides acting, Hawke has made before narrative and documentary films behind the camera, in addition to writing. He’s diverse in a way that really slips below the radar. It’s hard to guess that the director of The Hottest State and Seymour: An Introduction is the star of Good Kill, if you didn’t already know ahead of time. That’s just one small example in a career that’s full of them. Hawke consistently makes interesting choices year in and year out, always challenging himself as well as his audience. He received a Lifetime Achievement Award at last year’s New York Film Festival, and it was well deserved. I was a guest at his celebratory dinner at NYFF and was thrilled to help honor the man who pretty much can do anything.


On Friday, fans of Hawke can see him do some really committed work when First Reformed comes out. It’s another interesting chapter in a very unique career. Hawke may not be a traditional A-lister, but he’s a singular talent in the industry. Whatever project he chooses to attach himself to, there’s always a method to his madness. Above all, there’s an appreciation and respect for the medium on display. Not every actor can say that, but Hawke sure can. Going forward, it’ll be very exciting to watch him continue to evolve. Where he goes next is anyone’s guess, but I know it’ll be someplace well worth following him to…

Be sure to check out Hawke in First Reformed, in theaters this weekend!

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