First Cow

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First Cow
First Cow poster.jpeg
Theatrical release poster
Directed byKelly Reichardt
Produced by
Screenplay by
Based onThe Half Life
by Jonathan Raymond
Music byWilliam Tyler
CinematographyChristopher Blauvelt
Edited byKelly Reichardt
Distributed byA24
Release date
‹See TfM›
  • August 30, 2019 (2019-08-30) (Telluride)
  • March 6, 2020 (2020-03-06) (United States)
Running time
121 minutes[1]
CountryUnited States
Box office$101,068[2]

First Cow is a 2020 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.[3][4] It was theatrically released in the United States on March 6, 2020 by A24 and subsequently released on VOD platforms on July 10, 2020,[5][6] to high acclaim from critics.


In the present day, a woman is walking with her dog when she comes across a skull buried in the ground. She digs up two skeletons, side by side.

In 1820, Otis "Cookie" Figowitz is a quiet chef traveling with a group of loud and aggressive fur trappers in the Oregon Territory, who harass Cookie for not bringing them enough food while scavenging. 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 and Lu later reunite and spend several days together at the shack and bond. Lu talks about his past traveling the world and Cookie talks about his ambitions, saying that he would like to one day open either a bakery or a hotel in San Francisco. Cookie learns of the first ever milk cow being brought into the territories to service Chief Factor, a wealthy English man with the only proper house in the settlement. The cow's mate and calf died on its journey to Oregon, making it the only cow. Cookie sees that the cow is left out in the open by Factor's property and reminisces on his days as a baker's assistant and tells Lu about how he would like some of the cow's milk as he could use it to make baked goods. Together they come up with a plan to sneak onto Factor's property at night, with Cookie milking the cow and Lu keeping watch from a tree, being ready to signal in case anything goes wrong. They manage to get enough milk to bake a batch of biscuits without being caught. While Cookie is unsatisfied with the result, wishing it could be sweeter, Lu points out that it tastes better than any food the outpost has and that it could easily sell for a lot of money.

They take their biscuits to the market and offer to sell them. When asked how they're made, Lu claims it's a "Chinese secret" and doesn't say much else. The biscuits become popular instantly and they sell out their first batch within minutes. In the days that follow, lines begin to form for people to try their biscuits. A boy who works for Factor and watches the cow attempts to buy a biscuit, but he is cut in line and barely misses his chance to try the last one of the day.

One day, they are asked to reserve at least one biscuit for Factor, who has become aware of their business and is intrigued. Factor buys one and loves it. Factor asks Cookie to make a clafoutis for an upcoming meeting he has with a local captain and a Native American chief. At the meeting, 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, which puts both Cookie and Lu on edge. He takes the captain, the chief, Cookie and Lu to see the cow. The cow recognizes Cookie and nuzzles him, causing the two men to become more alert. After this meeting, Cookie wants to end the business and move on with Lu, but Lu wants to sell one more batch of biscuits, saying that they just need a little more money before they're ready to move on. Cookie reluctantly agrees and they go back the next night to milk the cow one more time.

A man living inside of Factor's estate happens to walk outside that night. Lu, seeing him, attempts to signal to Cookie that the plan has gone wrong. While learning on the branch in an attempt to get Cookie's attention, the branch snaps. Cookie leaves the cow, knocking over the milk in the process, and goes to check on Lu. The man who went outside sees the noise and alerts everyone in the house, believing that they are under attack. Cookie and Lu run off. Factor realizes that Cookie and Lu are the ones stealing the cow's milk and declares that he intends to kill them. A hunt ensues and Factor and his men corner Cookie and Lu at a cliff by the river.

Cookie and Lu split up after Lu jumps in the river and swims away in an attempt to escape while Cookie instead hides in nearby bushes. Cookie tries to run away after Factor's men leave but falls down a hill and sustains a head injury. He wakes up in a shack owned by a native American couple, saying that he needs to find his friend. Meanwhile, Lu hires a man who owns a canoe to take him downstream. He eventually returns to the shack, intent on taking the money from the tree they have hid it in. He hides after seeing Factor's security arrive at the shack and destroy it, seeing that they believe the shack to be abandoned. After they leave, he retrieves the money from the tree. Cookie regains his strength and returns to the shack. He walks by the cow, which is now surrounded by a fence. Unbeknownst to him, the boy who watched the cow and was denied the last biscuit saw him, and begins to follow him by himself while carrying a gun. Lu and Cookie reunite at the shack, and Lu recommends they get a ride on the nearest boat going south. Cookie, still suffering from his head injury, has difficulty keeping up while Lu encourages him to keep going, both of them unaware that they are being followed by the boy. Eventually Cookie lies down, his injury getting worse. Lu clutches the bag of money for a moment, seemingly considering leaving Cookie. However, he instead chooses to lie down beside him, saying that they will be safe there. They both lie down in the same position as the skeletons found in the opening.



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.[7][8]

In November 2018, René Auberjonois was cast in the film.[9] In March 2019, it was announced that John Magaro had joined the cast of the film.[10]

Principal photography began in November 2018.[11] Reichardt shot the movie in a 4:3 ratio instead of letterbox.[12]


It had its world premiere at the Telluride Film Festival on August 30, 2019.[13] It screened at the New York Film Festival on September 28, 2019.[14] Although it was released in four theaters in the United States on March 6, 2020, the film was pulled from release by its distributor 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. It is scheduled to receive a full, nationwide theatrical release later in 2020.[6]

Critical reception[edit]

On review aggregator Rotten Tomatoes, the film holds an approval rating of 95% based on 133 reviews, with an average rating of 8.43/10. 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."[15] On Metacritic, the film has a weighted average score of 89 out of 100, based on 41 critics, indicating "universal acclaim".[16]

A. A. Dowd and Katie Rife of The A.V. Club gave the film a positive review, praising its simplicity and precision in storytelling.[17]


  1. ^ "First Cow". New York Film Festival. Retrieved August 6, 2019.
  2. ^ "First Cow". Box Office Mojo. Retrieved March 13, 2020.
  3. ^ "The 70th Berlinale Competition and Further Films to Complete the Berlinale Special". Berlinale. Retrieved 29 January 2020.
  4. ^ "Berlin Competition Lineup Revealed: Sally Potter, Kelly Reichardt, Eliza Hittman, Abel Ferrara". Variety. Retrieved 29 January 2020.
  5. ^ "First Cow". Box Office Mojo. Retrieved August 29, 2019.
  6. ^ a b Kohn, Eric (June 29, 2020). "'First Cow' Will Head to VOD, and Kelly Reichardt Reconsiders Her Film's Resonance — Exclusive". IndieWire. Retrieved July 10, 2020.
  7. ^ Nordine, Michael (October 31, 2018). "'First Cow': Kelly Reichardt's Follow-Up to 'Certain Women' Is a Period Piece Set in Oregon and China". IndieWire. Retrieved March 13, 2019.
  8. ^ "Production Weekly" (PDF). Production Weekly. December 20, 2018. Retrieved March 13, 2019.
  9. ^ Auberjonois, Rene (November 30, 2018). "Oh dear! I know! I've been AWOL... a combination of family stuff, travel, and the dregs of a miserable cold (better now!). Going to Oregon on Sunday to shoot a 'bit' on "FIRST COW" -new film by Kelly Reichardt! Excited!". Twitter. Retrieved November 30, 2018.
  10. ^ Hipes, Patrick (March 12, 2019). "John Magaro Joins 'The Many Saints Of Newark' In Reteam With David Chase". Deadline Hollywood. Retrieved March 13, 2019.
  11. ^ Lavallee, Eric (October 31, 2018). "Her Old Joy: Kelly Reichardt Finds Oregon by Way of China in "First Cow"". Retrieved March 13, 2019.
  13. ^ Hammond, Pete (August 29, 2019). "Telluride Film Festival: 'Ford V Ferrari', 'Judy', 'Motherless Brooklyn', Weinstein-Inspired Drama 'The Assistant' Among Premieres Headed To 46th Edition – Full List". Deadline Hollywood. Retrieved August 29, 2019.
  14. ^ Fleming Jr, Mike (August 6, 2019). "57th New York Film Festival Sets Full Slate; Pedro Almodovar, Bong Joon-ho Bring Their Cannes Prize Winners". Deadline Hollywood. Retrieved August 6, 2019.
  15. ^ "First Cow (2020)". Rotten Tomatoes. Retrieved August 16, 2020.
  16. ^ "First Cow Reviews". Metacritic. Retrieved August 16, 2020.
  17. ^ Dowd, A. A.; Rife, Katie (March 6, 2020). "Gentle, Thoughtful, and Touching, First Cow Is a Quiet Hit with Our Critics". The A.V. Club. Retrieved March 6, 2020.

External links[edit]