Reflecting on First Cow: A Bizarrely Poetic Turn-of-the-Century Tale
First Cow is a masterpiece of independent cinema by the mind who brought us Certain Women (2016) and Wendy and Lucy (2008), Kelly Reichardt. Reichardt creates a strange little world that belongs in the history books, following a man who abandons his trapping party and befriends a like-minded outsider as they try to survive in an Oregon-based tale. It’s an intimate exploration of humanity, the desire to live, and a deep discovery of the world at large.
Striking visuals and close-ups of the two lead actors remind the audience of the personal side of this story. It feels like a discovery, tracking two outcasts on a path of survival. It strikes the audience with emotional moments and an acting performance from John Magaro that is truly memorable.
Humorous moments really pull this film together; quiet jokes and moments of entertainment stand out against dull colours. Everything feels muted visually, while some natural colours explode across the screen. However, it’s the acting that really draws us into the story, with performances that are truly extraordinary.
Our two heroes are trying to make a living, making oil cakes with milk stolen from a cow that belongs to Chief Factor, played magnificently by Toby Jones in a scene-chewing performance. The Factor’s cow is the first to be brought to the region, making its milk incredibly rare. As such, the two leads’ cakes are highly sought-after once they begin to sell them to the people of the village. Their cakes become legendary in the town, and even the Chief Factor himself wants to try one. This is how the film develops tension. A slow-burn story develops and it is so strange and captivating, it really pulls in the audience and makes them follow the story. The cast delivers a well-cultivated collection of understated and overstated performances, that make this a striking story.
First Cow is cleverly written, visually beautiful, and captivatingly performed—a near-perfect beast of independent cinema.
The reviewer, Elle, is a talented 17-year-old student who has recently completed a work placement with Cinema For All via Arts Emergency.