First Cow takes us back in time to the Pacific Northwest where we look at life as seen through the lens of a fur trapper and Chinese immigrant.
Fur trapper Cookie Figowitz (John Maguro) befriends a Chinese immigrant, King-Lu (Orion Lee) early on in the film. The two of them are among many to explore the Oregon Territory in the 1820s. While there’s surely a lot of history that one could examine, the film settles in on the friendship between the two. It’s more than a friendship as the two start up their own business as a way of making money.
After the first cow makes its way to The Royal West Pacific Trading Post, the two decide to use its milk as a way of making food. Regardless of how they plan to use the milk, they’re doing so without permission from the cow’s owner. This isn’t a case of the cow being there to serve the community’s benefit. If you take away the whole aspect of their friendship and business thriving on stealing, it’s a beautiful friendship. Honestly, it’s an on-screen bromance that we haven’t seen in some time. Whether or not that’s what novelist and co-writer Jon Raymond intended, I don’t know.
There is certainly something about watching this film in the week immediately after the Ten Commandments were read in the Jewish calendar. While nothing is said of Cookie’s religion in the film, one can only assume based on his last name. And yet, you can’t help but frown when he decides to turn to stealing as a way of making money. It doesn’t matter that Chief Factor (Toby Jones) has no idea. What Cookie and King-Lu are doing is wrong…plain as day!
Once viewers are able to take a step back from the whole stealing part, it’s certainly not a bad film. Not at all. The cinematography is beautiful for taking advantage of as much natural light as possible. At least, that’s how I viewed the film. It’s honestly hard to set a film in the 1800s and not be as authentic in terms of the lighting.
The film’s 4:3 aspect ratio is an interesting choice. Most films set during this time period typically have a wider screen. It’s an interesting choice for what it’s worth. This isn’t to say that it doesn’t work for the film. There’s certainly nothing frustrating about this particular choice. It’s just…different.
DIRECTOR: Kelly Reichardt
SCREENWRITERS: Jon Raymond & Kelly Reichardt
CAST: John Magaro, Orion Lee, Toby Jones, and Ewen Bremner