18 November 2020 | evanston_dad
Outcasts in the American Frontier
A story about two outcasts who find friendship and a business partnership with each other in the American frontier.
John Magaro plays a gentle baker who begins the movie as cook for a prospecting expedition. He's too thoughtful and sensitive to really fit in with the macho wild men he's with, who bully and threaten him. Orion Lee is a Chinese immigrant who befriends him and suggests that they go into business selling the baker's biscuits at a local trading post. The biscuits are a sensation, but the enterprise is a dangerous one -- the only place to get milk is to steal it from the cow (yes, THE cow, not A cow) that belongs to the local aristocrat, played by the always welcome Toby Jones. The film begins in the present day with a hiker in the woods discovering something that hints at how the movie will end, and how the movie then circles back to that find is a small miracle of narrative storytelling.
Kelly Reichardt, who's made a career of quiet, understated films, remains true to form here. "First Cow" shows much more than it tells, which should please fans of art house fare but will probably frustrate more casual moviegoers who have less patience for the way stories are told. The two main characters don't talk much, but we learn much about them, not from what they say, but from how they act. The first time we see Magaro's character, for example, he's hunting for mushrooms in the woods, and he takes the time to set a salamander he finds back on its feet when it's struggling to flip itself over. And when Lee's character shows him to his cabin in the woods, the first thing Magaro does is find some wildflowers with which to decorate the small space. Little flourishes like these reward the patient viewer, and we come to like the two men so much that the end, though we've been warned of it in advance, feels that much more tragic when it comes.
Covid has seen to it that 2020 hasn't exactly been the most robust year for movies, but of movies that have been released so far this year, "First Cow" is one of the best I've seen.