First Cow (2019) is a measured and rewarding drama about a pair of mismatched transients in 1820’s-era Oregon who collaborate to pursue their own variation of the American Dream. Otis "Cookie" Figowitz (John Magaro) is working as a chef to a traveling party of fur trappers when he first encounters King-Lu (Orion Lee), a Chinese immigrant on the run after killing a Russian trapper.
Putting their pasts behind them, Cookie and King-Lu partner together with dreams of utilizing Cookie’s experience as a baker’s assistant to launch their own business. Their ambitions are soon realized after they learn of the region’s first cow, belonging to a wealthy British trader (Toby Jones) who overshadows the community. The cow becomes Cookie and King-Lu’s nighttime source of pilfered milk, which they use to produce delectable biscuits sold at the local market. The biscuits become enormously popular and demand skyrockets, forcing the two men to increase their nightly thievery—despite the looming threat of fierce recrimination if they are caught.
Co-written and directed by American filmmaker Kelly Reichardt (Wendy and Lucy, Old Joy) from the novel The Half Life by Jonathan Raymond, First Cow is an affecting tale of aspiration and entrepreneurship delivered with a marked sense of playfulness. Magaro and Lee share great chemistry on screen, evoking a genuine sense of camaraderie between seemingly disparate souls. Arguably Reichardt’s most accessible film to date, it’s a surprisingly sincere fable, and a highly involving foray into a place-in-time rarely captured so invitingly on screen.
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