Thursday, March 12, 2020

Review: First Cow

Release date: March 6, 2020 (DC Area March 13, 2020)
Running time: 121 minutes
Starring: John Magaro, Orion Lee, Rene Auberjonois 

I can't tell you how many odd looks I got when I told people I was going to a movie about a cow in the American frontier.  However, First Cow is so much more than simply a movie about livestock.  Cookie (Magaro) is in Oregon where he meets King Lu (Lee) who is on the run from some violent individuals.  The two become fast if awkward friends--each person complementing the other--and go into business together.  Cookie has the skills for the business but Lu has the vision and drive to make it a success.  How the two go about growing their business in early America, and what life was like in that pioneer time, forms much of the story of this film.  

First Cow is set in the Oregon frontier at the time when the first settlements were forming and man was still trying to conquer the wilderness.  The film does a great job of depicting this lifestyle, with amazing looking settlements, clothing, and utensils to highlight life on the frontier.  Seeing how Cookie uses his skills for the business with time-appropriate tools is a lot of fun to watch.  The film is so authentic; the world seems at times cold and muddy, and at other times wondrous and warm.  This setting goes beyond the great set and costume design.  First Cow also depicts the atmosphere without overtly pointing to it.  Frontier life was at time was isolating and brutal, and First Cow does a wonderful job showing this without resorting to holding the viewers hands.  This type of dedication is rare to see and I am glad that the director, Kelly Reichardt, committed to this.  

Much of what makes this film such a fantastic experience is the wonderful writing and dialog.  The characters, especially King Lu, have some thoughtful and funny lines that help move the story along.  There are so many quotable things here that you will constantly be writing them down.  And the film definitely showcases this by shooting at a 4:3 aspect ratio, making the characters front and center to any scene.  And to pull it all together, First Cow has a catchy and appropriate soundtrack.  What sound like banjos or guitars are used to give each scene the right mood.  Scenes that are supposed to be light-hearted and whimsical have appropriate music, and serious scenes likewise change the musical accompaniment.  If there is one critique of the film, is that the film takes its time getting to where it is going.  This is definitely a choice by the director and one that I did not mind at all.  But it might be too slow and lackadaisical for some viewers.  However, those that want something wonderfully different that will milk each scene for all its worth will be in for a treat with First Cow.  It is a really great experience to experience this time through this unlikely friendship and this unusual bovine.

First Cow is an udderly charming film; those hoping for something wonderfully different will enjoy the fantastic characters, writing, and setting, as well as how the film milks each and every shot. 

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