Kelly Reichardt made a western about friendship and it’s beautiful
After a mysterious open with a hiker and her dog making a discovery in a more recent time, First Cow moves back into the early 19th Century Oregon territory. Cookie (John Magaro, The Big Short) is near the end of his journey as a cook for a crew of fur trappers when he finds King-Lu (Orion Lee) hiding in bushes. Cookie takes care of King-Lu, and the two men, who both feel like outsiders in this wild northwest region, become fast friends. Meanwhile, a lone milk cow is making its way to the wilderness.
Kelly Reichardt (Meek’s Cutoff, Certain Women) creates a vision of the west rarely seen in film. Inclusive casting provides a more realistic view of the trading post as it may have been. Indigenous women watch from shore as the cow is ferried across the water, and different accents are spoken by the men in the watering hole. King-Lu tells Cookie he loves the region because “history isn’t here yet.”
The wilderness is lush, with greens that pop off the screen. Reichardt and crew make this world appear one full of wonder and possibility, wherein a couple of friends could dream of opening a hotel together on funds they raise from Cookie’s baking talents. With no women around to place in a typical domestic role, Cookie and King-Lu are shown sewing, sweeping, and baking (such a unique sight in westerns that I found it noteworthy).
First Cow is based on a novel from Jonathan Raymond, who co-wrote the screenplay with Reichardt; they’ve collaborated on other films in the past. There’s humor to this story, which made our audience laugh out loud a number of times. Sure, the title celebrates the cow, but the film celebrates this friendship between two men of differing backgrounds. First Cow is a kind and gentle film, a sweet — but not saccharine — work that leaves the viewer smiling. Such a film is a balm in these uncertain times.
First Cow is scheduled to open March 20 in Austin theaters.