First Cow

By the director Meek's Cutoff

In Kelly Reichardt’s beautiful new film, First Cow, we find ourselves in the Oregon Territory around 1820. Cookie (John Magaro) is a sensitive, soft-spoken Northeasterner working for fur trappers who regularly mistreat him, while King-Lu (Orion Lee), is a Chinese immigrant who is greeted with suspicion by nearly everyone he meets.Poster for First Cow

After Cookie helps King-Lu out of a bind, they form an instant link. Together, they find a home in a broken-down shack on the outskirts of a rough trading post. Everyone there is looking for gold, but a pile of beaver pelts or even a steady job would be nice.

King-Lu and Cookie find their luck changing when a rich landowner (Toby Jones), brings in the region’s first cow. Every night, after he and his staff, made up primarily of Native Americans, shut down the house and go to bed, Cookie and King-Lu sneak onto his property to milk his cow.

Cookie uses the milk to make biscuits and fry cakes that King-Lu sells with speed and finesse. And for a while, their plan goes beautifully. But they can’t live off another man’s property forever, and soon the shaky lower rung on which our heroes are standing threatens to give way altogether.

The film’s exceptional cinematographer Christopher Blauvelt shoots the forest and surrounding land with such poetic deference that it becomes the third central character.

Indeed, it’s hard to decide which is more moving: the bond between the men or their as-yet-untamed surroundings.

– Elizabeth Weitzman, The Wrap

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