“First Cow,” directed by Kelly Reichardt and previously shown at the 2019 New York Film Festival, is set in America’s Pacific Northwest in the early 1800s. Two men seeking their fortune team up and find a way to exploit a situation, but crime will out and they run into trouble.
Early on there is a shot of the remains of two people. And the plot, often with humor, but ultimately serious, tells how those bones got there. While somewhat far-fetched, “First Cow” features good acting and effective scenery. The screenplay is by Reichardt and Jonathan Raymond based on his novel.
The inventive marauders are Cookie Figowitz, played by John Magaro, and King-Lu, portrayed by Orion Lee, and their crime is comically absurd but financially rewarding. During the dead of night on repeated forays they sneak over to someone else’s cow and milk her. Their teaming up as partners and the resulting escapades are entertaining. But the men face life-threatening trouble when the angry owners of the cow find out what is happening and set out to trap the thieves. The cast also includes Toby Jones and the late Rene Auberjonois.
This oddball story is set against the atmosphere of the old northwest, and the film achieves a kind of retro movie western look. One can’t take it very seriously even though the personal stakes become high. Let’s just say that along the way director Reichardt milks it for laughs. An A24 release. Reviewed March 6, 2020.