3 out 5 stars
When screening a film, there can be numerous experiences on and off-screen while waiting for the story to unfold. While watching First Cow, the funniest element throughout the two-hour screening was watching the cinema staff trying to fix things because they had not been told the film was shot in a 4:3 aspect ratio. (Think of portrait style on your mobile phone). Otherwise, this whole experience became a remedy for insomnia. That should be a warning for audiences: go into this film fully rested.
The movie starts with an intriguing beginning as a woman walks her dog along an Oregon river and happens upon two skeletons amongst the soft soil of the shoreline. Then we are suddenly transported back to 1820 and introduced to Otis "Cookie" Figowitz (John Magaro), who is traveling with fur traders as they make their way across the new frontier. As the company cook, he scavenges for food along the way and happens upon a Chinese immigrant named King-Lu (Orion Lee). The vulnerable man is on the run from a group of murderous Russians. Cookie decides to hide him amongst his belongings while feeding him with some of their rations. This act of kindness would lead the two men to build a bond that would later afford them a lucrative business venture.
The two men get reacquainted at the main outpost on the edge of the wilderness. As they build into their friendship, Cookie and Lu share their belongings and hear one another’s tales of their past. One that moves from sharing a home to eventually starting an entrepreneurial food start-up. When Cookie discovers that the Chief Factor (Toby Jones) has brought the first cow into the region, he comes up with the idea that is supported by Lu. They would milk the cow in the pre-dawn hours and use the liquid gold to make some mouth-watering baked goods that become an instant hit in the community. Until people begin to wonder where they were getting all of their supplies for these delicious creations.
Every aspect of this production screams of artistry and creative filmmaking that will grab the cinephile’s attention. This is an example of a movie that delivers pressure amongst reviewers to say that this is one of the year's best films which will lead to a disparity on Rotten Tomatoes as critics will gush with their love for Kelly Reichardt’s film. At the same time, general audiences will not remember most of the story. Why? They will most likely succumb to taking a nap due to the exceptionally methodical pacing and a dimly lit project that is reminiscent of the ambient noise machines used to calm children at night.
Even though it starts as a mystery, it becomes a character-driven, morality tale of friendship. Kelly Reichardt manages to capture the atmosphere of the early frontier and the necessity of human relationships, while showing the fine line between entrepreneurship and criminal activity. Her project is a film student’s dream, but will be utterly inaccessible to most audiences. It is an artistic journey that will only be appreciated by very few and long-forgotten after its week-long run in cinemas. Even though it seems bred from a fine pedigree, it is a taste that may never be appreciated by the masses.
REEL DIALOGUE - Where is the line between a good idea and a crime?
If there is anything to take away from films like First Cow, there is something wrong with this world. The moral ambiguity of the people's choices in the movie may be hard to stomach, but it is not hard to understand. The discomfort may come from asking where we determine our own morality.
In this world where everyone has an opinion about every moral stance, it has become critical to figure out how to answer this philosophical question. The answer can be found in studying the person of Jesus. Not that it is a simple answer, but as you look into his life and death, the answer will be evident. Pick up one of the accounts of his life and see how God answers this multi-layered query with one man.