In “First Reformed,” Ethan Hawke plays Ernst Toller, a former military chaplain still grieving the loss of his son in the Iraq war. Toller is now the minister of the titular church in upstate New York that’s more popular with tourists — who come to hear about its 250-year history — than with parishioners, who number in the single digits.

Down the street, there’s another church called Abundant Life. As its name implies, it’s one of those mega-churches that draws a congregation of thousands. It’s run by Pastor Joel Jeffers (Cedric The Entertainer, billed by his real name, Cedric Antonio Kyles), who understands the significance of the smaller venue and helps fund it, and installed Toller in its ministry.

Among Toller’s small flock is Mary (Amanda Seyfried), a pregnant woman who is worried about her husband, Michael (Phillip Ettinger), an environmental activist who is not happy about bringing a new life into this world. Considering the coming ecological catastrophe brought on by global warming and pollution, he wants his wife to have an abortion, so she asks Toller to talk to him. In doing so, the minister is faced with a man with a fatalist view of the future and some major depression issues. As much as he’d like to help, Toller can’t find any words to soothe Michael’s pain, which leads the man of the cloth to review his own circumstances. He’s lonely, childless, divorced, living a sparse life, and dealing with a serious health issue. On top of that, he can’t help thinking of Michael’s words of warning about climate change, which becomes a major running theme throughout the movie — particularly when Toller meets Edward Balq (Michael Gaston), whose paper manufacturing firm is a major polluter, yet he also donates tens of thousands of dollars to the mega-church.

“First Reformed” is a movie about Toller’s torment, and Hawke plays it brilliantly. It’s one of his best performances in years. Kyles handles the pastor’s role so well that he’ll certainly be offered more dramatic roles going forward. Unfortunately, Seyfried is miscast as Mary, but it’s a part that doesn’t have much depth to begin with.

The biggest problem with “First Reformed” is writer/director Paul Schrader. Other reviewers are swooning over this movie because they remember the legendary work he did with the scripts for “Taxi Driver,” “American Gigolo,” and “Raging Bull,” but this one isn’t even worthy of comparison to those. It’s slow and ponderous, with many of the shots going on too long. Then there’s the laborious device of watching Toller write each entry in a newly-begun diary of his daily life, accompanied by Hawke’s voiceover narration. It’s cumbersome at best.

Moreover, there are two scenes in the last 15 minutes of this movie that destroyed any hope I had it would turn around for the better. They involve the relationship between Hawke and Seyfried, which I hoped wouldn’t end up in anything more than a platonic relationship, but all of a sudden we’re torn from reality into a weird fantasy sequence that doesn’t fit the tone of the rest of the movie. I absolutely hated that, especially since it takes place as the tension has been ratcheted up, building to a climax in one of the story lines (that I won’t spoil for you) but never getting there.

I give “First Reformed” a 3 out of 10.