I hesitate to write a review for director Kelly Reichardt‘s “First Cow” for fear of coming across as uncultured and undignified. I feel it’s important to share my opinion of this overly-praised snore fest, if only to assure the general public that not all film critics are completely out of touch. This is the type of movie that film snobs will tell you is supposedly a masterpiece in the hopes that they will appear smart to others in the field. Well I’m not here to do that. This draggy film is a real yawner. This movie is boooooooring.
The story tells the tale of two unlikely friends in the early 1800s who have big dreams of becoming rich and living a better life. Chinese immigrant King-Lu (Orion Lee) lives in the woods and gets by as best he can. Cookie (John Magaro) serves as a cook for a band of verbally abusive trappers. After a chance encounter, the pair settle down by a river and begin a small business making oily cakes from the stolen milk of the first cow in the village, a lone, prized bovine who belongs to a rich landowner (Toby Jones).
The story is a simple one of friendship and the American dream, and not much happens during the two hour runtime. The story thankfully picks up a little speed once the two find success selling their cakes, but the first half is absolutely brutal to sit through. Early on, you could start the film, step away for a good 15 minutes, and come back to have only missed a man making and then eating biscuits.
This is not an exaggeration.
If you find pot stirring, whiskey drinking, chicken feeding, and cow milking to be the height of good time, then have at it. This movie is for you!
Reichardt’s style is already very deliberate and subtle (“Meek’s Cutoff,” “Certain Women”), but her subtlety here is a detriment. She takes too long to tell her story, and it lost my interest almost instantly. The too-dark cinematography doesn’t help matters because you can’t see what is happening half the time. (Not to worry, it’s nothing).
I’m shocked “First Cow” has found its place atop so many “best of the year” lists, which proves my point that this is precisely why people generally don’t trust film critics. I appreciate nuanced filmmaking, but I have a low tolerance for cinema that is overtly tedious. It’s a pity because I think there was a good story buried beneath this uneventful film.
By: Louisa Moore