First Cow

First Cow ★★★★★

There isn't a filmmaker alive who understands and utilizes silence as well as Kelly Reichardt does.

The reigning queen of Slow Cinema delivers a remarkably beautiful story of friendship and two men's ground-level fight against the crushing weight of capitalism. A friendship that happened purely by chance, but a bond that's utterly undeniable. What begins as a simple act of kindness from one man to another gives birth to a link they refuse to let break. The desperation they both feel is palpable, particularly at a moment where they both acknowledge the dangerous position they're in yet decide to continue anyway as it seems like their window for success is closing. John Magaro and Orion Lee are both astonishing in this, resisting every urge to play the high notes and maintaining the restrained humanity this film needs them to execute to really work.

The focus on male friendship and the wooded setting would make this a fascinating double feature with Old Joy, my personal favorite of Reichardt's oeuvre. With her trademark focus on ambiance and atmosphere, you're absolutely transported to the Oregon Territory of the mid-19th century. A different filmmaker would pare this way down, but she has the vision to stew in the sights and sounds: people drifting down a river, Native people sharing culture amongst themselves, traders stumbling through the woods. But then the harsh reality sets in that certain people (take a wild guess at their race and gender) control the resources around here.

"History isn't here yet"
A world yet to be defined means clay waiting to be molded. That idea of opportunity is what Cookie and King Lu latch onto, propelling them into risky gambit after risky gambit. There's an argument for the prologue here better serving as an epilogue, but I think the final shot of this movie closing it out couldn't be more suitable. The way they both crescendo at the very end creates a finale that is purely sublime.

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