Film Review – First Cow (2019)

Title – First Cow (2019)

Director – Kelly Reichardt (Meeks Cutoff)

Cast – John Magaro, Dylan Smith, Orion Lee, Ewen Bremner, Toby Jones

Plot – A group of fur trappers deep in the Oregon woods discover the potential to make their fortune from the only cow in the local area in the early settlement period of the United States.

“It’s getting started that’s the puzzle”

Review by Eddie on 25/11/2020

If you’ve ever seen a Kelly Reichardt film you know the well-regarded director is in no rush to get her audience anywhere fast or in particular, as she instead lets her camera linger on her characters and setting, well and truly the less is more approach to narrative storytelling.

Since her debut with 1994 effort River of Grass, Reichardt has steadily plowed away across her career with character driven dramas that will either have the audience in a trance like state of anticipation or others struggling to stay awake as things ever so slowly transpire in front of their eyes.

With her newest effort First Cow, Reichardt doesn’t change her style in the slightest in adapting Jonathan Raymond’s book, as we follow John Magaro’s Cookie and his new business partner King-Lu (played by the films MVP Orion Lee) deep in the woods of the early American Oregon frontier where they search for fortune but settle for a small-scale business venture that sees them stealing milk from the areas sole cow.

The film feels and and breathes like its from the era it is set in, there’s no flashy Hollywood style over substance here, this is a muddy and lived-in woodlands set tale that is further enhanced by Reichardt’s stoic directing and 4:3 aspect ratio but while its alive in this sense of time and place, there’s very little energy or enthusiasm coming from its tale or characters that feel as though they had a lot more to give.

There’s nothing wrong with small and intimate character study’s that act as metaphors to much larger explorations of the human condition and our history but First Cow constantly feels as though its beggining to be something more, something that never eventuates, never more so evident than in the relationship between Cookie and King-Lu as friends and business associates with Magaro and Lee doing fine work but finding themselves unable to escape the shackles of a film that doesn’t let them fly free.

It’s a hard film to hate, you can sense that Reichardt and her crew poured their love into this A24 distributed drama (one that I’m sure they will be promoting come awards season) but there’s not a lot to love here as our central friendships, characters and story slowly plod along to a destination that never eventuates into a finale that makes it all truly worth your while.

Final Say – 

A sure-fire hit with Reichardt fans, First Cow continues on with the form and product that has made her name but this snail-paced drama feels as though it had more to give with a bunch of colorful characters and situations that feel only half-explored.

2 1/2 broken branches out of 5  

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