director: Kelly Reichardt (old joy, wendy and lucy)
starring: john magaro, orion lee, toby jones and scott shepherd
REVIEWER: lyall carter
A skilled cook has traveled west and joined a group of fur trappers in Oregon, though he only finds true connection with a Chinese immigrant also seeking his fortune. Soon the two collaborate on a successful business.
When you explain the basic premise of First Cow - that the film is essentially about two mates who secretly milk a cow - it sounds slightly bizarre. Even though its pacing can be pedestrian at times, First Cow is a film of exquisite beauty which patiently explores themes of male friendship rarely seen in cinema.
A taciturn loner and skilled cook (John Magaro) has traveled west and joined a group of fur trappers in Oregon Territory, though he only finds true connection with a Chinese immigrant (Orion Lee) also seeking his fortune; soon the two collaborate on a successful business, although its longevity is reliant upon the clandestine participation of a nearby wealthy landowner’s prized milking cow.
As I mentioned at the top of the review it does seem slightly strange that a whole feature film, running for a little over two hours, centres around two friends stealing milk from a cow. There are some slight issues with pacing that director Kelly Reichardt could have corrected with a tighter edit, but nevertheless the story still has a coherent flow that draws the audience in.
At its heart First Cow isn’t really about said cow. It's about the friendship and aspiration of two men of different races and cultures thrown together in the rugged beauty of the American frontier. Their simple hopes for the future, for bettering themselves and working together to achieve it, is universal.
First Cow is also beautifully shot in some of the most gorgeous locations I’ve seen on the big screen for a long time. And even though the pace of the film might seem glacial for some, I appreciated that Reichardt gave time for the audience to soak it all in.
First Cow is a film of exquisite beauty which patiently explores themes of male friendship rarely seen in cinema.