First Cow

First Cow ★★★★½

This is gay?

There’s a special feeling that comes with seeing the newest release by one of your favorite directors. It’s something that washed over me while watching First Cow, from one of my very favorites of modern cinema. You just feel transported into a certain world, with this subconscious understanding that this will now be included in the canon of a director you consider to be among the best. You wait for years for their new release, eagerly anticipating it, and I remembered how I felt back watching Certain Women for the first time, or Night Moves, or Meek’s Cutoff. All excellent films, which just made my excitement for First Cow even higher. Sometimes that leads to disappointment. That isn’t the case with First Cow. Kelly Reichardt has done it again. At this point she is a master of creating (or recreating worlds), and this little slice of 19th century frontier Oregon feels so incredibly authentic, with everyone on her crew doing wonderful work in bringing this setting to life. Christopher Blauvelt again crushes it as DP, reminding us that he’s one of the best in the business.

Ultimately though, this little tale belongs mostly to John Magaro and Orion Lee, as Cookie Figowitz and King Lu, two men from very different paths who have met in this one specific moment in time to forge a friendship for the ages (literally). In this small little slice of Americana, Reichardt captures so much of what American history truly means. We see how capitalism is exploited, how the class system devalues human beings, relegating them to objects akin to cattle (and often valued even less than those animals), how those born without privilege (or as much privilege) are pushed further down to the bottom no matter how hard they try to hustle their way out. We see that there’s always someone beneath you as well, evidenced in the respectful depiction of the indigenous people in this story, always there on the sidelines, mostly made silent as they have no choice but to watch white colonizers come in and take their land and tear it apart for all its worth. Side note, it was really nice to see Lily Gladstone back with Reichardt in a small role here, after giving her breakout performance in Certain Women, one of the best performances of the last decade.

And despite all of this hardship that is shown in the gentle, subtle way you’d expect from Reichardt, where you mostly have to be paying attention to the things not being said to see the real truth, there’s also a beauty in here. That beauty is the relationship between Cookie and King Lu, two men who come from such different places and yet form a bond that is so strong, so tender and sincere. They are a demonstration of what America can be; people from such different backgrounds finding unity with one another and creating something beautiful and prosperous. And, of course, we see where that eventually leads them once the iron grip of the capitalist/class system gets to them. A gentle work with major resonance. Reichardt, you haven’t let me down yet.

Also, this is gay?

Added to 2020 ranked
Added to Ranked: Kelly Reichardt
Added to Ranked: A24 films

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