First Cow

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First Cow
Theatrical release poster
Directed byKelly Reichardt
Screenplay by
Based onThe Half-Life
by Jonathan Raymond
Produced by
CinematographyChristopher Blauvelt
Edited byKelly Reichardt
Music byWilliam Tyler
Distributed byA24
Release dates
  • August 30, 2019 (2019-08-30) (Telluride)
  • March 6, 2020 (2020-03-06) (United States)
Running time
121 minutes[1]
CountryUnited States
Budget$2 million+[a]
Box office$1.4 million[3]

First Cow is a 2019 American drama film directed by Kelly Reichardt, from a screenplay by Reichardt and Jonathan Raymond based on Raymond's 2004 novel The Half-Life. It stars John Magaro, Orion Lee, Toby Jones, Ewen Bremner, Scott Shepherd, Gary Farmer, Stephen Malkmus, Alia Shawkat, 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 selected to compete for the Golden Bear in the main competition section at the 70th Berlin International Film Festival.[4][5] It was theatrically released by A24 in the United States on March 6, 2020, and 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,[6] and was named one of the ten best films of 2020 by the National Board of Review.[7]


In the present, 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 him for not finding them enough food. 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's group reaches a fort and Lu finds him there, 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 starting a farm, while Cookie talks about opening a bakery or hotel in San Francisco.

Meanwhile, the outpost's first milk cow has arrived; her mate and calf died 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 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. Cookie is unsatisfied with the result, wishing it could be sweeter, but 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 cake. Word spreads and the men line up day after day as they run out. One day, a big man shoves a slight man aside for the last cake, and Lu does not object, only caring for the money. As they get richer, they decide it's safer to store their money in a tree than to take it to a bank.

The Chief Factor tries their cakes and asks Cookie to bake a clafoutis, the favorite of a 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 his cow's good breeding, 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 a cat, and the tree branch breaks before Cookie hears Lu's warning 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, but 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 soon leaves.

Lu trades his buttons to hire a canoe to go downstream in search of Cookie, and returns to the shack, hiding from the Chief Factor's men rummaging through the destruction. He retrieves their money from the tree. Cookie returns to the shack, walking by the cow on the Factor's estate, now surrounded by a fence. He is spied by the slight man Lu ignored in line at the market, who follows with a rifle.

Cookie finds Lu at the shack, and Lu suggests they catch the next boat south. Cookie can't keep up through the woods and he lies down, clearly fatigued. Lu tells Cookie they will be safe and promises to keep watch, then lies beside him, reassures him, and closes his eyes.



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.[8][9]

In November 2018, René Auberjonois was cast in the film.[10] In March 2019, it was announced that John Magaro had joined the cast.[11]

Principal photography began in November 2018 in Oregon.[12] The film was shot in a 4:3 aspect ratio.[13]


First Cow had its world premiere at the Telluride Film Festival on August 30, 2019.[14] It screened at the New York Film Festival on September 28, 2019.[15] Although it was released in four U.S. theaters on March 6, 2020, the film was pulled from release by A24 on March 15, due to the COVID-19 pandemic. It was released for purchase on VOD platforms on July 10, 2020, and became available to rent on July 21.[16]


Critical response[edit]

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."[17] On Metacritic, the film has a weighted average score of 89 out of 100, based on 44 critics, indicating "universal acclaim".[18]

A. A. Dowd and Katie Rife of The A.V. Club gave the film a positive review, praising its simplicity and precise storytelling.[19]

At the end of 2020, 119 film critics included the film on their top-ten lists, with 18 ranking it first and 20 ranking it second.[20]


Award Date of ceremony Category Recipient(s) Result Ref.
Berlin International Film Festival March 1, 2020 Golden Bear Kelly Reichardt Nominated [21]
Boston Society of Film Critics Awards December 13, 2020 Best Film First Cow Runner-up [22]
Best Director Kelly Reichardt Runner-up
New York Film Critics Circle Awards December 18, 2020 Best Film First Cow Won [23]
Chicago Film Critics Association December 21, 2020 Best Film First Cow Nominated
Best Director Kelly Reichardt Nominated
Best Adapted Screenplay Jon Raymond and Kelly Reichardt Nominated
Best Cinematography Christopher Blauvelt Nominated
Best Art Direction Lisa Ward and Vanessa Knoll Nominated
Best Costume Design April Napier Nominated
Florida Film Critics Circle December 21, 2020 Best Film First Cow Won
Best Director Kelly Reichardt Runner-up
Best Actor John Magaro Runner-up
Best Adapted Screenplay Jon Raymond and Kelly Reichardt Nominated
Best Score William Tyler Nominated
Alliance of Women Film Journalists January 4, 2021 Best Director Kelly Reichardt Nominated
Best Screenplay, Adapted Jon Raymond and Kelly Reichardt Nominated
Best Woman Director Kelly Reichardt Nominated
National Society of Film Critics January 9, 2021 Best Picture Runner-up
Best Director Kelly Reichardt Runner-up
Best Screenplay Jon Raymond and Kelly Reichardt Runner-up
Gotham Awards January 11, 2021 Best Feature First Cow Nominated [24]
Best Actor John Magaro Nominated
Breakthrough Actor Orion Lee Nominated
Best Screenplay Jon Raymond and Kelly Reichardt Nominated
Online Film Critics Society Awards January 25, 2021 Best Picture First Cow Nominated [25]
Best Director Kelly Reichardt Nominated
Best Adapted Screenplay Jonathan Raymond and Kelly Reichardt Nominated
Best Cinematography Christopher Blauvelt Nominated
Toronto Film Critics Association February 7, 2021 Best Film Runner-up [26]
Best Director Kelly Reichardt Runner-up
Critics' Choice Movie Awards March 7, 2021 Best Adapted Screenplay Jonathan Raymond and Kelly Reichardt Nominated [27]
Best Cinematography Christopher Blauvelt Nominated
Detroit Film Critics Society March 8, 2021 Best Picture First Cow Nominated [28]
Breakthrough Performance Orion Lee Nominated
Best Adapted Screenplay Kelly Reichardt and Jonathan Raymond Nominated
Austin Film Critics Association March 19, 2021 Best Film First Cow Nominated [29]
Best Director Kelly Reichardt Nominated
Independent Spirit Awards April 22, 2021 Best Feature Neil Kopp, Vincent Savino and Anish Savjani Nominated [30]
Best Director Kelly Reichardt Nominated
Best Supporting Male Orion Lee Nominated
British Independent Film Awards December 5, 2021 Best International Independent Film Kelly Reichardt, Jon Raymond, Neil Kopp, Vincent Savino and Anish Savjani Nominated [31]
César Awards February 25, 2022 Best Foreign Film Kelly Reichardt Nominated [32]


  1. ^ Reichardt stated that First Cow was "a low-budget film, obviously, but bigger for me" and her previous films had budgets of $2 million.[2]


  1. ^ "First Cow". New York Film Festival. 6 August 2019. Retrieved August 6, 2019.
  2. ^ Paiella, Gabriella (July 21, 2020). "First Cow Director Kelly Reichardt on Making Quiet Art and the Failure of American Individualism". GQ. Retrieved December 7, 2020.
  3. ^ "First Cow". Box Office Mojo. Retrieved March 13, 2021.
  4. ^ "The 70th Berlinale Competition and Further Films to Complete the Berlinale Special". Berlinale. Retrieved 29 January 2020.
  5. ^ "Berlin Competition Lineup Revealed: Sally Potter, Kelly Reichardt, Eliza Hittman, Abel Ferrara". Variety. 29 January 2020. Retrieved 29 January 2020.
  6. ^ "Awards New York Film Critics Circle". NYFCC. Retrieved 19 December 2020.
  7. ^ "Spike Lee's 'Da 5 Bloods' Named Best Film Of 2020 By National Board Of Review". Deadline Hollywood. January 26, 2021. Retrieved January 26, 2021.
  8. ^ 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.
  9. ^ "Production Weekly" (PDF). Production Weekly. December 20, 2018. Retrieved March 13, 2019.
  10. ^ 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.
  11. ^ Hipes, Patrick (March 12, 2019). "John Magaro Joins 'The Many Saints Of Newark' In Reteam With David Chase". Deadline Hollywood. Retrieved March 13, 2019.
  12. ^ Lavallee, Eric (October 31, 2018). "Her Old Joy: Kelly Reichardt Finds Oregon by Way of China in "First Cow"". Retrieved March 13, 2019.
  13. ^ Gordon, Karen (March 11, 2020). "First Cow: An anti-mythic tale of the Old West, fabulous fritters, lactic larceny and larger themes". Retrieved July 25, 2020.
  14. ^ 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.
  15. ^ Fleming, Mike Jr. (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.
  16. ^ 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.
  17. ^ "First Cow (2019)". Rotten Tomatoes. Fandango. Retrieved October 10, 2021.
  18. ^ "First Cow". Metacritic. Retrieved August 16, 2020.
  19. ^ 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.
  20. ^ "Best of 2020: Film Critic Top Ten Lists". Metacritic. Retrieved January 12, 2021.
  21. ^ "The Awards of the 70th Berlin International Film Festival" (PDF). Berlinale. Retrieved 1 March 2020.
  22. ^ "'Nomadland' Named Best Picture at Boston Society of Film Critics Awards, Paul Raci and Yuh-jung Youn Among Winners". Variety. December 13, 2020. Retrieved December 13, 2020.
  23. ^ Davis, Clayton (2020-12-18). "New York Film Critics Circle Winners Full List: 'First Cow' Takes Top Prize". Variety. Retrieved 2020-12-19.
  24. ^ "Nominations Announced for 30th IFP Gotham Awards". Independent Filmmaker Project. November 12, 2020. Retrieved December 6, 2020.
  25. ^ Ramos, Dino-Ray (January 25, 2021). "Online Films Critics Society Unveils Annual Film Awards Recipients, Names 'Nomadland' Best Picture". Deadline Hollywood.
  26. ^ "Nomadland Leads 24th Annual TFCA Award Winners". Toronto Film Critics Association. February 7, 2021. Retrieved May 27, 2021.
  27. ^ "Film nominees for the 26th annual Critics Choice Awards have been announced". Critics Choice Association. February 8, 2021. Retrieved February 8, 2021.
  28. ^ "The 2020 Detroit Film Critics Society Awards". Detroit Film Critics Society.
  29. ^ Partridge, Jon (March 12, 2021). "2020 Austin Film Critics Association Award Nominations". Austin Film Critics Association. Retrieved May 19, 2021.
  30. ^ Lewis, Hilary; Galuppo, Mia (26 January 2021). "Film Independent Spirit Awards: 'Never Rarely Sometimes Always,' 'Minari,' 'Ma Rainey's Black Bottom,' 'Nomadland' Top Nominations". The Hollywood Reporter.
  31. ^ "'Belfast,' 'Boiling Point' Lead BIFA Nominations". Variety. November 3, 2021. Retrieved 4 November 2021.
  32. ^ "César Awards Nominations: 'Lost Illusions', 'Annette', 'Aline' Dominate; 'Titane' Shut Out Of Best Film Race – Full List". Deadline. 26 January 2022. Retrieved 30 January 2022.

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External links[edit]