“First Cow”

2 STARS

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

11 comments

    1. Towards the end of the year, I screen and review films that are in consideration for awards. This happens every awards season, and I’d like to give a fair chance to small films that may have fallen through the cracks earlier in the year. With 2020 especially, and with a pandemic raging, most film festivals were cancelled and movie theaters shuttered. There were no press and media screenings. This is why I am reviewing “older” films at this point in time. I do not understand why you felt the need to resort to childish name calling just because you disagree with my assessment of “First Cow.” I personally feel the world of film criticism is a better place when we can all share our opinions without being rude about it.

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  1. Funny you’re the only critic that didn’t like this lovely film. Maybe you don’t even know that “disinterested “ means impartial, not uninterested.

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    1. I’m not sure you even read my review, but yeah, this movie was a real yawner. I won’t pretend to like something just because other critics think I’m supposed to. That’s the beauty of thoughtful film criticism. (You may also want to look up the definition of “disinterested.”).

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  2. Please spell out every plot point, leave nothing subtle, tie it up nicely with a bow! I don’t want to do anything as an audience member and I don’t want a director to trust me to have an intelligent thought! My name is Louisa Moore and I am the worst critic ever. Ps I think wall-e is the best movie! Yeah you heard me right. I said wall-e

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    1. Thanks for commenting. It’s clear you didn’t bother to read any of my other reviews. If you had, you’d see that I greatly appreciate nuanced, subtle filmmaking when it’s actually compelling. And I never said WALL-E is the “best movie,” but yes, it’s my favorite movie. I don’t feel the need to be pretentious, especially in films that I list and enjoy as personal favorites.

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  3. Just saw this movie, and I read your distinctly-minority review with, believe me, very great relief.

    It reminded me of something the late Howard Smith, a Village Voice columnist, once said about the difference between Hollywood films and European films (which, back when he said it, meant European “art” films). In an American film, he said, if the hero has to climb stairs up to the fifth floor of a building, we see him start on the bottom step and then cut to him reaching the top. But the European film forces you to watch him climb every blessed step, flight after flight after flight, punishing you for your impatience. When “First Cow” held that opening shot of the long long long ship chugging up the river, and the camera didn’t move for what seemed like several minutes, I knew I was in for that same sort of punishment.

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