With the release of Paul Schrader’s “Master Gardener” this week, he finishes the trilogy he started in 2017 with “First Reformed” and continued with 2021’s “The Card Counter.” Each film features a man attempting to exert some control over his present circumstances while tortured by memories from the past and anxiety about the future.
Starring Ethan Hawke as a pastor experiencing a crisis of faith while counseling a young couple about climate change, “First Reformed” is a searing and severe piece of work. “The Card Counter,” which stars Oscar Isaac as a card shark traveling from casino to casino while trying to outrun his memories of war crimes committed in Abu Ghraib, is angry and extremely bleak, but both films make for an excellent lead-in to “Master Gardener,” starring Joel Egerton, which has a surprisingly hopeful bent. Stream both “First Reformed” and “The Card Counter” on HBO Max or rent elsewhere.
But the legendary Schrader has almost five decades worth of greatest hits to explore as well, so here’s just a selection of some of his most memorable films to stream.
He got his start as a screenwriter, first working on the script for Sydney Pollack’s 1974 Robert Mitchum-starring crime drama “The Yakuza,” based on a story by his brother Leonard who was living in Japan. Stream it on HBO Max or rent it elsewhere.
In 1976, he started his collaboration with Martin Scorsese, penning the script for “Taxi Driver,” which shares much thematic DNA with his current crop of films (rent it on digital platforms). He also worked on the screenplays for the boxing biopic “Raging Bull” in 1980 (stream it on HBO Max), the wild biblical epic “The Last Temptation of Christ” in 1988 (available to rent), and the 1999 ambulance drama “Bringing out the Dead” (on Showtime).
Schrader started directing films in 1978 with his debut, “Blue Collar” (on Showtime), starring Harvey Keitel, Yaphet Kotto and Richard Pryor as three auto workers who uncover union corruption in this bleak capitalist indictment. In 1980 he wrote and directed the iconic Richard Gere-starring “American Gigolo,” a murder mystery as psychological study of a male escort that instantly made Gere a sex symbol (streaming on Prime Video, Paramount+ and MGM+).
His 1982 erotic thriller “Cat People” starring Natassja Kinski and Malcolm McDowell is loosely based on the Jacques Tourneur/Val Lewton 1942 horror movie (available to rent). “Mishima: A Life in Four Chapters” (1985) is an abstract biopic/tribute to the Japanese author Yukio Mishima (available on the Criterion Channel, or for rent elsewhere). The 1992 Willem Dafoe-starring “Light Sleeper” is a predecessor of the “man in a room” films, with Dafoe starring as a drug dealer with a penchant for journaling (available to rent). Dafoe also co-starred in Schrader’s 2002 film “Auto Focus,” about “Hogan’s Heroes” star Bob Crane (Greg Kinnear) and his unsolved murder (available to rent). Finally, it would be remiss not to mention Schrader’s 2013 erotic camp trashterpiece “The Canyons,” an exploration of fame and narcissism penned by Bret Easton Ellis and starring Lindsay Lohan opposite an adult film star or two, available to stream on AMC+ and Tubi. It’s well worth the watch.
Katie Walsh is the Tribune News Service film critic and co-host of the “Miami Nice” podcast.