Set in the 19th century, a cook travels with fur trappers to the Oregon Territory. On his way, he meets a Chinese immigrant, who he befriends and that friendship progresses into a business partnership. What happens during the course of their business forms the crux of the story directed by Kelly Reichardt based on the novel The Half-life by Jonathan Raymond.
What is the story about?
Set in the 19th century, a cook travels with fur trappers to the Oregon Territory. On his way he meets a Chinese immigrant, who he befriends and that friendship progresses into a business partnership. What happens during the course of their business forms the crux of the story directed by Kelly Reichardt based on the novel The Half-life by Jonathan Raymond.
The mild-mannered character of Cookie Figowitz (John Magaro) was perfect in all its glory. It takes a while for you to get his rift but when you do, there’s a great actor who pulls it off effortlessly. But the character of King Lu (Orion Lee) was in total contrast, the characters’ enterprising qualities were well displayed and he did a commendable job. Then there’s Chief Factor (Toby Jones) he brings in few laughs with his character’s insecurity in this serious drama. First Cow is a film which demands peculiar actors who can pull off simple characters with great diligence and justice was done.
The film begins with a woman in the field (Alia Shawkat) with a dog discovers a pair of human skeletons, after which the film jumps back in time. To be noted there are no splashy titles explaining the timelines. From there on you experience an era which is far from development, but still, capitalism smells as fresh as today. You can clearly infer from the film that capitalism divides more than it actually unites. You get to see poverty, competition, dwindling natural resources, filth and slavery from the manse of an Englishman. While watching the film you really start to wonder, if we really did evolve or we’re just caught in the loop with different advancements.
Reichardt’s seems to have a pattern, I haven’t seen her earlier films but from what I’ve heard and read she takes her sweet time to establish the story and get it moving. Such was the case with First Cow too. It takes some time, then it slowly induces humour along with good amount drama which fares well rewarding your patience. It was fun to watch the pair Cookie & King carrying out their business and laying a foundation for their future as hoteliers. The farfetched dream which the fate-met friends desire reminds you of hope in the period of distress among the unjust society. First Cow is one of those rare cinemas which lures the festival circuit and occasionally the commercial folks.
Music and other Departments
Just like its subject, the cinematography by Christopher Blauvet was delectable, which was crowned by Reichardt’s boxy ratio. Initially, it bothered me, but as the film progressed I realized how this makes you concentrate on the images and holds your attention without straying elsewhere. The director herself has edited the film, and we can notice she has a pattern where she surprises with cuts you may never expect. The score was minimal; William Tyler didn’t get much of action except for couple string instruments.
A historical material with such a simple and yet impactful approach, makes First Cow stand out from the crowd. Titled based on the cute brown-eyed creature, does justice without a doubt.
I don’t find any, but First Cow is not a film which many would like it. Its qualities are rare and won’t be widely appreciated.
Did I enjoy it?
I thoroughly enjoyed it. If you give it some time it actually gets to you.
Do I recommend it and why?
I strongly recommend it. Don’t shy away from rare cinemas which may not look attractive but they carry substance that you’ll savour for long.