Paul Elliott’s review published on Letterboxd:
A captivating story of friendship which is in equal parts both cultivated and brutal. Based on the novel The Half Life by Jonathan Raymond, it follows an accomplished cook discovering a connection with a Chinese immigrant and together soon undertake to collaborate on a prosperous enterprise. There's an earthiness captured by director Kelly Reichardt which often favours low-level shooting before pulling out to convey the gorgeous deep autumnal colours of the environment. The depiction of America is one which has invariably been multinational and multiracial but perpetually blighted with racism, and King Lu reveals early on to Cookie that his original travelling companion was wrongly accused of a crime and murdered on the result of his race. Both the leading characters are always seen living off the land and making the most of the ingredients which nature and opportunity furnish them with, and taking no more than what they need.
The cinematography by Christopher Blauvelt is without exception stunning, especially along the riverbank with its images of the reflection of the water used to it's utmost. John Magaro’s portrayal of Cookie transmits a sense of genuine warmth with a compassionate and thoughtful smile, and the empathy he shows to animals and nature more broadly is sincerely touching. There's sparse use of dialogue, and glances used to communicate vast chunks of information serves the narrative marvellously as it never intrudes on the beauty of the visuals. It forms into a heartfelt male friendship story against the backdrop of a harsh environment, and Cookie unconsciously assumes possession of the more domesticated chores. Much of the narrative occurs at night, and there's some subtle practical lighting employed and composer William Tyler creates an unintrusive score for the film which elevates the poetry of many of its images. First Cow exquisitely explores the gentle melancholia of a companionable male friendship.