Truthfully, I spent much of this movie waiting for the cow to come back on-screen.
“First Cow” opens with a rather long sequence of digging, followed by another long sequence that just so happened to be the movie itself. In all actuality the opening shot of this film does something very important, it sets up the pace of this movie; a pace that is very much content with simply taking inventory of the scenery. Meaning, this movie may be too slow for some (renter beware). At times the movie stops just so we can listen to the sound of wood being chopped or so characters can survey their surroundings in real time. But if you are familiar with writer/director Kelly Reichardt’s work (Wendy and Lucy, Certain Women) she’s known for these types of beautifully blocked visual sequences that are deliberately “meditative”.
Synopsis: A cook (John Magaro) traveling through the forest with a group of fur traders in 1820’s Oregon, crosses paths with a Chinese immigrant (Orion Lee). They become friends and together come up with a risky business venture involving the arrival of the first cow to be shipped into the area.
Reichardt and Jon Raymond adapt Raymond’s own novel (The Half-Life), developing a script where the dialogue is riddled with lines which on the surface seem quite simplistic, but in context speak bitingly to the themes of greed, colonialism and capitalism. It’s just a shame that Raymond’s work was paired up with Reichardt’s pacing.
So, the entire movie isn’t slow. Just the first hour…and the final thirty minutes. I have no problem with movies that take their time or “mood pieces” that are all about establishing the moment by forcing audiences to feel every second of time that ticks by. But if it’s so slow that I cease to care about characters or plot, then how much can you really expect me to endure?
There are movies where the less you know going in, the better the viewing experience will be. “First Cow” is not that movie. It’s a film I struggled to get through due to the initial hour, partially because I didn’t know the story would eventually pick-up.
Final Thought: I get it, “First Cow” is supposed to be “Midnight Cowboy” A24 style. And I am not at all surprised that this film has garnered such critical praise. It’s just my belief that “First Cow” gets this praise solely based on some beautiful cinematography, well written dialogue, the performances from the two leads and a folksy score. For the most part this is a boring movie, with a somewhat intriguing if not playful premise when it finally gets to it. “First Cow” could have been a short film. It should have been a short film.
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