First Cow

First Cow ★★★★★

Kelly Reichardt's films are as natural as nature itself, and as such, everything about First Cow feels as though it happens in the actual, real world. Nothing is exaggerated or dramatized here: people kill and die, steal, lie, hunt and are hunted...and it all just feels like *life*. As simple and as natural as getting up, eating, bathing, going to bed.

I could see how the tranquility and slow pace of this film could be a turnoff to some viewers, but it really is remarkable how Reichardt makes everything seem so natural and real even when the stakes are literally life and death.

The choice to show us the end of the film before the story even begins, then the restraint to keep from showing what would have been a violent and bloody climax are real testaments to Reichardt's boldness and dedication to her vision. Not many filmmakers would have been able to pull that off. This is a film that subverts expectations at every turn, even though those turns come slowly and deliberately.

The development of the relationship between the two main characters is executed masterfully, resulting in a subtle arc that leads to a real emotional investment in these men and the bond between them.

"Subtlety" is also the name of the game when it comes to the themes presented in this film, the subtext running so fluidly through the narrative that it could easily be missed if you aren't paying enough attention. Nonetheless, the film certainly has something to say about capitalism, colonialism and racism, but is never preachy in the delivery of those messages.

The narrative and themes are supported by the cinematography, which utilizes an oft-still camera that captures the characters simply going about their business and living their lives. When the camera does move, it feels as though that motion is initiated by the characters themselves rather than the other way around. As with the narrative, it demonstrates a tremendous amount of restraint and a singular focus on the intended visual style. Cinematographer Christopher Blauvelt has shot every one of Reichardt's films since Meek's Cutoff, and it shows. They are a match made in heaven.

As a final note, it was a great pleasure to see Gary Farmer pop up here. The amount that this man has done for the representation and portrayal of Native Americans in popular culture during the past three decades can absolutely not be overstated, and he deserves all of the work.