4 1/2 Stars Movies

First Cow (2020)

What makes a movie “too slow”?

If you have not asked yourself this question, you most certainly will while watching First Cow. Indeed, you will be doing so in the first minute or so of the film, where director Kelly Reichardt gives us a one take shot of a massive cargo ship making its way across the water. She lets you know off the bat the pacing of the movie.

Based off the book “The Half-Life” by Jonathan Raymond, the story is about an unplanned friendship. We meet Cookie (John Magaro), who has recently joined a group of fur trappers in the west (the time period is not specifically mentioned, though I believe it to be in the mid to late 1800s) as a cook (hence his name). One night, he is stumbled upon by King-Lu (Orion Lee), a Chinese immigrant on the run for a major mishap. As time passes, they meet again, only to find an idea for a business after forming their friendship.

As is the case with all lesser known movies, the less you know about the plot, the better (I will at least say the movie does actually involve a literal cow). Instead, I want to share how the friendship between Cookie and King-Lu strays from the conventional type of friendship you might normally see in films. They don’t start off with fighting or quarreling (think of how the Avengers started off). Instead, they do something almost unheard of in films: they are kind to each other. King-Lu has lost his clothes when they first meet, so Cookie graciously gives him some. There is, in fact, very little tension shown through the friendship (“bromance”, if you will) through out the film, at least until the business they are in enters a state of jeopardy.

A day or so ago, a friend of mine asked how one can choose their best friend. Most of the time, I do feel it is part of God’s plan, and he just puts us in the right place at the right time. Human nature (sin) may make the road bumpy, but that is to be expected. I am thinking of random friendship memes (mostly with the animated “minions”) talking about how the best of friends never do foolish things apart.

While I never read the book, I never got much of a sense that the two men have more than just a friendship. There is no indication that they begin a romantic relationship, which I was sure would have happened if the film had been under the umbrella of a bigger studio.

Parents, the movie is PG-13 for some strong language, but that is really it.

These days, it seems that many movie goers are not as patient as they should be (I would wager it is most true for US audiences). Therefore, a movie like First Cow, which takes its time with its characters picking blueberries and figs (not to mention sweeping) may not be your cup of tea. It should be noted that certain movies can indeed be too fast paced and leave you scratching your head (the most recent example would be the film adaption of Artemis Fowl, which left a stench that could only be described as…..Fowl). A true film goer needs to be patient, or they will not be able to absorb the majesty of the entire film.

First Cow is one of those movies that, before the COVID pandemic, would be showing in my suburb’s “After Hours Film Society”, which would play lesser known films every other Monday night. It is also a film about lesser known parts of the world and it’s history, giving me the same feelings I got when I first saw films like Whale Rider (2003), Snow Angels (2008), Winter’s Bone (2010), Beasts of the Southern Wild (2012), and Leave No Trace (2018).

By the way, each of those films were what I would call the best film of their respective year, and First Cow certainly has that potential.


Rating: 4.5 out of 5.

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