The gentle humor and inciteful dynamics of ‘First Cow’ bring Kelly Reichardt’s brand back again to the expectedly great results.
Kelly Reichardt’s brand is strong. Beautiful landscape photography, excellent casting of character actors and actresses, animal actors galore, light comedic flourishes, intense examination of how humans interact with one another, criminal activity as a last resort, and a view of life outside of society. After seven films and a growing reputation, it’s obvious that she is at the top of her game. And while First Cow might not be her best film (that’s Certain Women) or most creative (Night Moves) or even funniest (Old Joy), but it is probably the one that will be looked at as the best encapsulation of her talents.
While John Magaro and Orion Lee are both great in the lead roles of Otis “Cookie” Figowitz and King Lu, the true star of the film is Reichardt. She owns this film and every frame of it, a capstone on a twenty-three-year career so far. First Cow is the story of Cookie and King finding each other in the wilderness of frontier life in about 1820.
After Cookie finds a naked and hungry King in the woods, they begin a friendship that results in their eventual downfall. They play house and steal from the wealthy and attempt to form life in the wilderness. “History isn’t here yet, King says at one point, explaining how he doesn’t see any expectations about what his life should be. It’s a rallying cry for two people doomed for failure. But before that, they start a bakery and develop a start-up before considering moving to San Francisco to test their luck. In 1820.
This is the humor and heart of Reichardt. She tells the story of two people that shouldn’t really be connected and unites them by chance and shows how they relate to each other. There is a lovely score from William Tyler, actors like Alia Shawkat and René Auberjonois and Lily Gladstone, and the film’s shot in a very intimate style.
Reichardt takes a story about a bunch of boys fighting about milk and fur and morphs it into a beautiful and touching story humanity connect one another when there is no one left in the world.It is a film that takes time to show how the Chinese-born King attempts to communicate with Native Americans and shows how Cookie stops in his path to help a salamander get back on its feet and talking to the titular cow. Conversations about French fashion don’t typically belong in a film about two con men getting by in the wild frontier. But Kelly Reichardt doesn’t make typical westerns.
First Cow could be a cinematic event of a new kind. When classes are someday taught about Reichardt’s particular talent, this should be the introduction. It touches on everything that anyone would expect from one of her films. That doesn’t necessarily make it any better or worse than the other films that hse has made, but it feels like a testimony. This is a Kelly Reichardt movie, through and through. It is an appetizer for one of the best filmmakers of the 2000s, who has changed the dramatic careers of actresses like Michelle Williams and Kristen Stewart. When A24 releases this in 2020, it will hopefully encourage people to see this and other films from a modern master.
First Cow will be released on March 6th, 2020 by A24