First Cow

Critics Consensus

First Cow finds director Kelly Reichardt revisiting territory and themes that will be familiar to fans of her previous work -- with typically rewarding results.

96%

TOMATOMETER

Total Count: 139

56%

Audience Score

Verified Ratings: 36

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Movie Info

Two travelers, on the run from a band of vengeful hunters in the 1820s Northwest, dream of striking it rich -- but their tenuous plan to make their fortune on the frontier comes to rely on the secret use of a landowner's prized dairy cow.

Cast & Crew

John Magaro
Cookie Figowitz
Alia Shawkat
Woman With Dog
Toby Jones
Chief Factor
Lily Gladstone
Chief Factor's Wife
Gary Farmer
Totillicum
Ted Rooney
Fort Trapper
Jonathan Raymond
Screenwriter
Kelly Reichardt
Screenwriter
Neil Kopp
Producer
Louise Lovegrove
Executive Producer
Scott Rudin
Executive Producer
William Tyler
Original Music
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News & Interviews for First Cow

Critic Reviews for First Cow

All Critics (139) | Top Critics (30) | Fresh (133) | Rotten (6)

Audience Reviews for First Cow

  • Aug 10, 2020
    DOLLARS TO DOUGHNUTS - My Review of FIRST COW (4 Stars) Kelly Reichardt makes slow, quiet films. With such titles as Old Joy, Wendy And Lucy, Meek's Cutoff and Certain Women, the mood may seem slightly dull, but the conflicts rage under the surface. Her latest, and I think, best film so far, First Cow, may hold to her established aesthetic, yet it's also a screw-tightening thriller in its own hushed way. The film, which Reichardt co-wrote with Jonathan Raymond, upon whose novel, "The Half Life" it was based, opens with a brief modern day prologue. A woman (Alia Shawkat, criminally underused) and her dog happen upon an unusual sight in the woods. Flashing back to the late 19th century Pacific Northwest, we meet Cookie (John Magaro), a trained chef traveling with a group of abusive fur traders. One night, he happens upon a naked man in the forest named King-Lu (Orion Lee), a Chinese man on the run from a group of Russians. They strike up a sweet friendship and decide to go in business together selling "oily cakes" (a type of fried doughnut) to the traders in their muddy market. News eventually comes that the wealthiest man in town, Chief Factor (Toby Jones), has imported a cow, the first in the area. Sensing opportunity, Cookie and King-Lu steal milk from Factor's cow at night in order to make better doughnuts. With their business booming as they discuss dreams of moving to San Francisco (called Saint Francisco here), the threat of getting caught looms over their capitalistic enterprise. Throughout, Magaro and Lee give muted, naturalistic performances. While Cookie concentrates on his culinary skills, King-Lu subtly pushes him to obtain more milk and make more money. The game becomes dangerous when Chief Factor hires Cookie to make a clafoutis for him, upping the danger that his palate will notice the presence of milk in the recipe. With only one cow in the village, the mystery would not hold up to scrutiny. Jones excels in his scenes, always leaving the audience to wonder how much he knows. In a chilling speech, he espouses the need to kill people in order to strike fear in everyone else. I also enjoyed watching Ewen Bremner (Trainspotting), who usually gives comic performances, doing a great job as one of the villainous elite. First Cow's connections to how the modern day 1% virtually control the masses comes through loud and clear. That such a beautiful friendship can endure through the hardships of wild west corporate power gives the film a gorgeous sense of longing for a better life. Shot in a square Academy ratio by Reichardt's frequent collaborator Christopher Blauvelt, First Cow finds beauty in the languor of its images. Instead of pushing for stunning imagery, everything feels real in a low key way. Patience gets rewarded by this oddly immersive film. A case could be made that Cookie and King-Lu feel like lovers, but the friendship at the heart of the story renders such ideas irrelevant. It feels impossible to watch First Cow without thinking of Robert Altman's 1971 masterpiece McCabe And Mrs. Miller. With both set around the same time and in the same geographical region, they explore the perils of trying to make a living with those more rich and powerful serving as menaces. We also get to see the late Rene Auberjonois in one of his first and last performances with these films. Both also feature unusual, somewhat unclassifiable pairings and the constant threat of violence. As King-Lu says to Cookie, "History isn't here yet. It's coming, but maybe this time can we can take it on our own terms." I can't recommend enough watching both as a richly satisfying double feature. First Cow's ending may feel abrupt and unresolved, but Reichardt delivers everything you need to piece it all together. Take a break from the audio and visual assaults of recent cinema and bask in this film's wonderfully rendered look at two people making a connection in a harsh, brutal world. At this time in history, many of us have slowed down our lives, paying attention to rhythms which may have gone unnoticed before. I think it's a perfect moment to watch a film like this. Some may call First Cow boring, but I found it to be among the best films of 2020.
    Glenn G Super Reviewer
  • Jul 13, 2020
    Half of the audience that watches this film will likely hate it. I'm starting with that because this film is incredibly slow in terms of pacing, which will easily turn off the impatient viewers. Personally, if a film like that has an interesting story, a slow pace actually helps to suck me into a story. First Cow, which is one of A24's most recent releases, has just become available on-demand. While I wouldn't rank it among their best when looking at their stellar catalog of films in recent years, it's still a great movie all around. First Cow follows a highly skilled survivalist/cook in Cookie Figowitz (John Magaro), as he stumbles upon a group of traders. Becoming close friends with King-Lu (Orion Lee), they illegally take an opportunity to earn themselves a profit. Once a cow arrives on one of the farms, they steal milk in order to cook biscuits for the townspeople. All seems well and good, but they can only keep it a secret for so long. This premise held my attention so well because the film continuously gave you reasons to care about the two main characters. It was that, on top of the slow pace that really kept me invested.  Films like Meek's Cutoff and Night Moves are what had me keeping an eye on director Kelly Reichardt because I found those films showed her true potential as a filmmaker. She's wonderful at bringing out the best in all of her performers. What kept me from loving those two films overall though, was the fact that I found them to be a little too drab in terms of sound design and music. That's clearly her signature because First Cow once again feels a little too much like that. I loved watching this film and everything that happens felt earned and satisfying, but the overall movie can feel a little lifeless at times. That's really my only issue with most of her film that I've seen. She's otherwise an award-worthy filmmaker in my eyes.  Yes, John Magaro and Orion Lee are both terrific and hold this film together from start to finish, but the real star of the show here is cinematographer Christopher Blauvelt. Having worked on her two aforementioned films as well as a few others, his work on Don't Worry, He Won't Get Far on Foot and Mid90s is when his name truly jumped out at me. Blauvelt is someone that I will begin researching and anxiously awaiting his next project, simply due to the fact that his work on First Cow was his best yet. The camerawork felt like a character in its own right. From certain ways, characters are framed to extreme wide shots that clearly have deeper meanings, the way this film looks pulled me in more than anything else. In the end, there are things about the tone that bothered me throughout the entire movie, but the story, characters, and especially the way the film is shot held my attention throughout. It's hard to recommend this movie to those who are casual viewers and were looking to be entertained because I can almost guarantee that you won't be unless you're a film buff and know what to expect. If it wasn't for the dour feel of the whole thing just not clicking with me, I might be saying that I loved this movie. Overall, it's a very, very well-made film that deserves attention, but from the proper audience.
    KJ P Super Reviewer

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