Cast: John Magaro, Orion Lee, Toby Jones, Ewen Bremner, Scott Shepherd and Gary Farmer
Directed by Kelly Reichardt
Written by Kelly Reichardt and Jonathan Raymond (Original Novel)
‘First Cow’ tells the story of two men trying their best to get through the hardships of everyday American life in the early 1800’s. One a chef and the other a Chinese immigrant looking for any opportunity of wealth, their misfortune turns when they begin to run a successful bakery trade at the local market, which is hindered only by their dependency on the stolen milk of local landowners’ prized cow. Directed by seasoned indie filmmaker Kelly Reichardt, there’s a charm to ‘First Cow’ which is unlike anything else I’ve seen on the big screen recently.
Completely unrecognisable in his role as ‘Cookie’, when compared to the rest of his filmography, John Magaro brilliantly fulfils the role of the unassuming chef who simply wishes to get by in the world. His own anxieties towards the threat those around him pose, as well as the questionable ethics which his and Lee’s bakery trade are grounded in are reflected in the feelings of the audience, creating a character who we feel pride for when triumphant, and empathy towards when defeated. Without a great amount of dialogue, Magaro provides a powerful physical performance to embody the role of ‘Cookie’ brilliantly, showing his emotions rather than telling.
Toby Jones is also not one to be forgotten, and although his filmography boasts roles in some of the largest franchises ever put to screen, he’s still able to disappear into a character, completely making it his own. The first appearance of Jones as the region’s landowner is contradictory to his own stature, conveying power and status simply through the deliverance of his dialogue and psychical composure. The relationship between the Chief Factor and the two younger men is an essential element of the narrative, and through the performances of these three exciting actors a great amount of tension and uncertainty is created.
A visually stunning film which utilises the natural landscape of the early-American settlements to its advantage, there isn’t a single aspect of ‘First Cow’s’ cinematography I could think to critique. An attention to the most minute, or even irrelevant details only help to further invest the audience in the world of the film, and by the time the credits roll, the cinematography and setting have created a portrayal of a location so vivid I felt as if I’d be able to walk through it myself, pointing out key landmarks as I went.
Now that it’s finally been released in UK cinemas I can’t recommend ‘First Cow’ enough. The story and visuals both definitely benefit from a focused viewing, so there’s no better place to give it a watch than your local cinema. An escape into the past and the natural beauty found amongst such early settlements, ‘First Cow’ is the perfect film for anyone looking to get away from it all for a few hours and lose themselves in a story of brotherhood and hope.