|Directed by||Kelly Reichardt|
|Based on||The Half Life|
by Jonathan Raymond
|Edited by||Kelly Reichardt|
|Music by||William Tyler|
|Box office||$1.4 million|
First Cow is a 2019 American drama film directed by Kelly Reichardt, from a screenplay by Reichardt and Jonathan Raymond based on Raymond's novel The Half Life. It stars John Magaro, Orion Lee, Toby Jones, Ewen Bremner, Scott Shepherd, Gary Farmer and Lily Gladstone. It also features René Auberjonois in one of his final film roles.
The film had its world premiere at the Telluride Film Festival on August 30, 2019, and was also selected to compete for the Golden Bear in the main competition section at the 70th Berlin International Film Festival. It was theatrically released in the United States on March 6, 2020, by A24 and subsequently released on VOD platforms on July 10, 2020, to acclaim from critics. It won Best Film at the 2020 New York Film Critics Circle Awards, and was named one of the ten best films of 2020 by the National Board of Review.
In present day, a woman walking her dog on the riverside discovers two skeletons lying together in a shallow grave.
In 1820, Otis "Cookie" Figowitz is a quiet chef traveling in Oregon Country with a group of loud and aggressive fur trappers who harass Cookie for not bringing them enough food while foraging. One night, he comes across King-Lu, a Chinese immigrant on the run for killing a Russian man. Cookie allows Lu to hide in his tent for the night and watches him escape across the river the next day.
Cookie reaches the outpost and Lu finds him babysitting an infant in the middle of a bar fight, and invites him to his house. Cookie moves in, and learns Lu is thinking about a farm, while Cookie talks about opening a bakery or a hotel in San Francisco.
Meanwhile, the outpost's first milk cow has arrived, her mate and calf dying on the journey. She is left unattended at night just outside the house of the wealthiest English trader in town, the Chief Factor. Lu laments the fact that poor men don't stand a chance to get ahead, without some kind of fortune, or committing a crime. Cookie reminisces about his days as a baker's assistant in Boston and tells Lu that he could use some of the cow's milk to make baked goods. They sneak onto the Chief Factor's property at night, Cookie milking the cow and Lu keeping watch from a tree. They manage to get enough milk to bake a batch of buttermilk biscuits without being caught. While Cookie is unsatisfied with the result, wishing it could be sweeter, Lu points out they are far better than anything on the outpost and suggests they could make a fortune. Cookie refines his recipe and adds honey.
They take their first batch of sweet oily cakes to market. When asked the recipe, Lu claims it's a "Chinese secret." The first few men to try them excitedly ask for more, and a bidding war erupts for the last oily cake. Word spreads and the men line up day after day as they run out, and a big man shoves a slight man aside for the last cake one day, while Lu refuses to honor his place, only caring for the money. As they get richer, they decide it's safer to hang their money in a tree, instead of taking it to the bank.
The Chief Factor at the outpost comes out to try their cakes and asks Cookie to bake a clafoutis, the favorite of a local captain he wants to impress at their next meeting. Lu and Cookie proudly deliver the clafoutis and observe as the Chief Factor offers tea with cream to the captain, remarking that despite the high quality breed of his milk cow, it is producing very little milk. He takes the captain, the chief, Cookie and Lu to see the cow, which recognizes Cookie and nuzzles him. Cookie urges Lu to leave town now, sensing the danger, but Lu persuades him they don't have enough to get to San Francisco and start their business, so they go back the next night to milk the cow once again.
A man at the Chief Factor's estate comes out to fetch the cat, and the tree branch breaks before Cookie hears Lu's call. They run as the alarm is raised, and after the captain sees the pail and stool and informs the Chief Factor his cow was being milked, they send their men to kill Lu and Cookie. When they reach a river Lu jumps while Cookie hides, then falls down a hill. Cookie wakes up in a shack, helped by an elderly Native American couple. He says he needs to find his friend, and leaves soon after.
Lu trades his buttons to hire a canoe to go downstream in search of his friend, and returns to the shack, hiding from the Chief Factor's men rummaging through the destruction, retrieving their money from the tree afterwards. Cookie heads back to the shack, walking by the cow on the Factor's estate, now surrounded by a fence. He is spied by the slight man rebuffed by Lu in line at the market, who follows with a rifle.
Cookie finds Lu at the shack, and Lu suggests they catch a ride on the nearest boat going south, once they reach the canoe. Cookie can't keep up through the woods and he lies down, clearly distressed. Lu tells Cookie they will be safe and promises to keep watch, then lays down beside him, reassuring him, and closes his eyes.
- John Magaro as Otis "Cookie" Figowitz
- Orion Lee as King-Lu
- René Auberjonois as Man with Raven
- Toby Jones as Chief Factor
- Ewen Bremner as Lloyd
- Scott Shepherd as Captain
- Gary Farmer as Totillicum
- Lily Gladstone as Chief Factor's Wife
- Alia Shawkat as Woman with Dog
- Dylan Smith as Jack
- Stephen Malkmus as Fiddler
- Mitchell Saddleback as Chief Factor's Servant
- Jared Kasowski as Thomas
- Todd A. Robinson as Fort Trapper
In October 2018, it was announced that Kelly Reichardt would direct the film, from a screenplay she wrote alongside Jonathan Raymond. Neil Kopp, Vincent Savino, Anish Savjani, Scott Rudin and Eli Bush would produce the film under their FilmScience and Scott Rudin Productions banners, respectively, while A24 would distribute.
It had its world premiere at the Telluride Film Festival on August 30, 2019. It screened at the New York Film Festival on September 28, 2019. Although it was released in four theaters in the United States on March 6, 2020, the film was pulled from release by A24 on March 15, 2020, due to the COVID-19 pandemic. The film was released for purchase on VOD platforms on July 10, 2020, and became available to rent on July 21, 2020.
On review aggregator Rotten Tomatoes, the film holds an approval rating of 96% based on 209 reviews, with an average score of 8.4/10. The website's critical consensus reads, "First Cow finds director Kelly Reichardt revisiting territory and themes that will be familiar to fans of her previous work -- with typically rewarding results." On Metacritic, the film has a weighted average score of 89 out of 100, based on 41 critics, indicating "universal acclaim".
At the end of 2020, 119 film critics ranked the film in their top-ten lists, including 18 ranking it first and 20 ranking it second.
- Reichardt stated that First Cow was "a low-budget film, obviously, but bigger for me" and her previous films had budgets of $2 million.
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