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First Cow and your first Kelly Reichardt: Movie Review

First Cow
First Cow and your first Kelly Reichardt: Movie Review
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About the Author

Tyler Collins

Tyler Collins

Tyler Collins is the Oakville News publishing assistant and arts reporter. He started with the news in 2016 and now specializes in current and live events, film, theatre and entertainment. He comes from Campbellton, NB and has lived in Oakville more than 20 years. Proud Sheridan grad of Journalism and Performing Arts. Twitter: @MrTyCollins

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You likely haven’t heard of director Kelly Reichardt before, or her new movie First Cow. Truth is, she’s been a filmmaker almost 30 years, but her lack of fame isn’t the only reason so few people know about her latest feature.

It opened in cinemas back in March – four days before the coronavirus closed cinemas across the country.

Now the film is available on demand, only between $5-10. Enough time has gone by for a director of Reichardt’s talent to go unnoticed, and First Cow is a terrific film to bring her quiet, heartfelt work to the forefront.

In 1820 Oregon, a talented forager/chef named Cookie meets an immigrant named King-Lu when arriving in a new town. Soon the two work together on a radical new business, although its success depends upon the cooperation of a nearby wealthy landowner’s prized milking cow.

It doesn’t sound like much, but just you wait and see how raw Reichardt spins this simple idea into a bold artwork. This won’t be enjoyed by all audiences, but if you’ve been missing cinema’s arthouse, this is just the right thing.

Photo: A24

Photo: A24

The film is quiet, and it’s the most pretentious and annoying characteristic. While the lack of volume drags the pace (and stretches the runtime a smidge too long) it fine tunes the soul of its characters and creatures so much deeper.

First Cow has the true spirit of a Western. It’s about nature’s peacefulness, the transition from nothing to something, and the peril of industry. At it’s heart though, the story is about friendship. Cookie and King-Lu’s bond is what defined America’s steadfast spirit in the first place: Trust in other people.

It’s just as King-Lu ominously says before the town becomes something; “History isn’t here yet. Maybe this time we can be ready for it.”

Reichardt is the master of minimalism, a style of drama more common in stage than film. But the focal question is the same: how can you use the least to say the most? That’s a transcendent method Reichardt understands as a director.

So is this the most engaging film you’ll see? No. Does it have the blockbuster action most movies need to justify themselves as movies? No. One scene even dares to spend two full minutes watching Cookie hopelessly sweep a dust-covered floor with the most primitive, useless broom you’ve ever seen.

Yet in these quiet times of quarantine, maybe this kind of movie can matter and exist in a way greater than intended.

The movie would’ve been far more captivating on the big screen and it’s a shame it only screened four days. For movie buffs missing the thrill of finding new gems at the cinema, First Cow will be enormously satisfying.

First Cow
8 out of 10

PG, 2hrs 1min. Western Drama.
Directed by Kelly Reichardt.
Starring John Magaro, Orion Lee, Toby Jones, Scott Shepherd and René Auberjonois.
Now available for Rental with TIFF Digital Lightbox and various services.

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