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First Cow

Kelly Reichardt’s new film is set in the Oregon territory in the middle 19th century as Americans are beginning to trek westward for a better life. Cookie (John Magaro) has done exactly this and is serving as a cook for a small group of trappers. One day, he meets a Chinese immigrant (Orion Lee) who is naked and evading a group of Russians who are looking for him. The two strike up a friendship that ultimately leads to a business venture that involves the cow of a wealthy businessman in the area. This is a very typical Reichardt film with its slow, meditative pace that allows one to become completely immersed in time and place. It deconstructs the spirit of souls who move west. While I thought Meek’s Cutoff brilliant, First Cow now takes that honor. If Daniel Plainview is the image of capitalistic greed and power in There Will Be Blood, Cookie and the immigrant represent a different facet of the capitalistic venture; they may have to steal to get what they want, but they are creative and entrepreneurial and learn how to take advantage of a situation for their own benefits in a place and time where living was harsh. There are several aspects of this film that stand out. The cinematography is gorgeous – the filming, along with the lilting banjo music, transports and immerses you into the world of these two men. The screenplay is excellent; viewing requires patience, but that patience pays off in the second half of the film as the story moves toward its climax. The ending is simply beautiful. I think the best part of the film is the friendship between these two men who are very different; the film serves as an exploration of male friendship and bonding. Magaro is a fantastic actor here, and I was completely taken in by his performance. He, under Reichardt’s expert direction, focuses on the power of the simplest moments in a man’s life. Huge thumbs up from me. Reichardt should easily command many best director nominations this year for her amazing work as director. (2019; 5 Stars)

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