First Cow

Room for rumination

This examination of the subtleties of friendship opens with a William Blake quote: “The bird, a nest; the spider, a web; man, friendship.

A shy, skilled cook (John Magaro) working for a rowdy band of fur trappers in 1820s Oregon Territory finds a kindred spirit in a Chinese immigrant (Orion Lee) with a clouded past and an entrepreneurial spirit. Together they decide to make and sell to a ravenous populace delicious oil-fried cakes and are on their way to making their fortunes. The American Dream.

The only problem with this scheme is that their recipe requires milk, which they clandestinely squeeze every night out of the settlement’s only cow (the lovely Evie), owned by the Chief Factor, or mayor (Toby Jones). This is a man who deals with such affronts with murderous fury.

Kelly Reichardt’s (Wendy and Lucy, Meek’s Cutoff, Certain Women) film is going to be a little slow for some. No car chases, gunfights or chop-socky. Sometimes there’s not even any sound.  But this shaggy frontier morality play will banish any remaining mythic notions of the Old West. Made me feel cold, damp, and hungry. (122 min)