In 1800's Oregon, two new friends embark on a venture to sell honey
cakes made from the stolen milk of a wealthy man's prized cow.
First Cow (2020)
Directed by Kelly Reichardt
Written by Jonathan Raymond and Kelly Reichardt
Starring John Magaro, Orion Lee, Toby Jones, Ewen Bremner,
Scott Shepherd, Gary Farmer, Alia Shawkat
Based on the novel The Half-Life by Jonathan Raymond
First Cow does not sound nearly as compelling as it ended up being. It's a film about friendship and cakes, and how one man's talent at baking can warm the heart of the entire frontier. On paper, this one sounds awfully cheesy, but Kelly Reichardt brings an expert eye to the director's chair and makes it an engaging drama, complete with a pulse-pounding third act. The American frontier was a dangerous and lawless place, and people who inspired the characters of Cookie Figowitz and King-Lu helped bring some humanity to the frontiersman with food of home. It's oddly inspiring.
Cookie (Magaro) encounters King-Lu (Lee) after he saves his life in the forest. Indebted to his new friend, King recognizes Cookie's skills at baking and suggests a business venture. Meanwhile, the wealthy Chief Factor (Jones) has shipped in the first cow to enter the frontier, his prized milking cow. Cookie and King secretly milk the cow at night to get the milk for the honey cakes that become a huge success in their camp. Chief Factor himself loves them so much that he brings Cookie and King into his inner circle, and the two start to realize they're playing a dangerous game. There's something so wholesome about the way people react to the cakes. It made me smile every time.
First Cow probably would've gotten a bit more attention had the pandemic not shut the theaters down. It's an A24 production, and they are easily the best company in the indie film scene right now. Almost every script they pay for turns into movie gold, and First Cow is a gem. The performances are subtle but genuine, the characters and story are superb, and the ending is abrupt but powerful.