first cow

Orion Lee (left) and John Magaro (right) star in A24's "First Cow" directed by Kelly Reichardt.

Arriving at a time when many moviegoers may have expected to see theaters open, "First Cow" unfortunately won't get the cinematic showings it deserves.

Only recently have wide audiences been given a chance to see A24's latest film "First Cow." Suffering a poorly timed theatrical release in March just as COVID-19 began forcing the closure of theaters nationwide, "First Cow" finally hit video on demand platforms this month.

While the film's attention to sound and picture won't receive the same justice in most homes as opposed to a theater, "First Cow" is a much-needed holistic experience. Its story offers a simple tale of friendship set in a beautifully shot mid-19th century Oregon, yet evolves into a surprisingly suspenseful narrative with bleak undertones. 

When the first milk cow arrives on the frontier, shy cook by trade "Cookie" and newly rescued Chinese immigrant King-Lu seize the opportunity by stealing the cow's milk to start their own bakery business. Their friendship as well as their business grow, resulting in adventure and hardship. 

"First Cow" takes its time enriching the fresh nature setting of early America. Inside a 4:3 aspect ratio and subdued color look, coupled with soft guitar strings for the soundtrack, everything technical and production-wise behind "First Cow" serves the story. To get a true sense of the personalities and friendship in "First Cow," the time period and setting must be established strongly to understand the character's plights. Doing so with atmosphere over exposition, the first half of "First Cow" is as relaxing and peaceful as nature itself. But, the journey the characters take puts emphasis on respect for the challenges of nature. 

As details relevant to the time period unfold, "First Cow" creates a sense of urgency for basic necessities and gives value to what we consider abundant resources today. This film empowers a cow's milk and the cow itself.

Friendship is still the film's driving factor, dare I say it's a "friendship study" as opposed to a character study. From their awkward beginnings and evolving conversation, the friendship of Cookie and Lu is still relatable by today's norms. To see where their choices lead them becomes increasingly engaging as their friendship grows.

The ideals of the character's themselves speak to a larger message. From their dreams to way of making ends meet, Cookie and Lu express desires born from budding capitalism in the endless possibility of the West. The film's ending and beginning highlight the relevancy of these ideals before they became commonplace. The circumstances that led them to each other, such as racism and classism, survived as long as wherever their buried bones end up. 

Final Verdict: 8/10

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