Filmmaker Kelly Reichardt’s period drama focuses on characters who hit upon a novel way to make their fortune in the 19th-century Oregon Territory.
From Kelly Reichardt, the director of Meek’s Cutoff, comes another distinctive drama set in the Oregon frontier: First Cow, her critically acclaimed film about two improbably matched comrades who pursue the American Dream in the early American West. Based on the novel The Half Life by Jonathan Raymond, who co-wrote the screenplay adaptation with Reichardt, it’s set to kick off the first phase of its North American theatrical run on Friday, March 6.
What’s it all about? In a woodland area of the Oregon Territory circa 1820, King-Lu (Orion Lee), a Chinese sailor on the run from a group of Russians, fortuitously encounters the benevolent Cookie (John Magaro), a shy cook employed by fur trappers. When the two men meet again on the outskirts of The Royal West Pacific Trading Post, they join forces to take advantage of what they view as a valuable resource: A cow — reportedly the first ever brought to the region — that belongs to a wealthy English landowner (Toby Jones) married to a Native American woman (Lily Gladstone).
If they obtain milk from the cow, Cookie and King-Lu figure, they could prepare and sell biscuits, a rare delicacy in that particular time and place. Of course, they’d have to milk the cow without anyone else, including the landowner, getting wise to what they’re doing. But the risk is worth the reward. For a while.
As Hollywood Reporter film critic David Rooney noted in his review of First Cow: “Another filmmaker might almost have treated the biscuit business as caper comedy or played up the foreboding of tragedy, and there are indeed muted elements of both here. But Reichardt folds it all into an authentic depiction of the realities of pioneer life, grounded in the lovely portrait of an unlikely relationship based on mutual trust, understanding and unspoken affection. The milieu comes vividly alive, sketching in the interactions of hunters, traders, itinerants, settlers and the Native Americans that occupy the fringes, their differences marked in April Napier’s period costumes.”
Here’s a trailer for Kelly Reichardt’s First Cow.