Saturday, December 19, 2020

Movie with Abe: First Cow

First Cow
Directed by Kelly Reichardt
Released March 6, 2020

There is a theory that anyone can accomplish anything if they merely set their mind to it. What that fails to take into account is that, in most cases, acquiring the bare materials or starting points necessary to do something requires some means. In other words, to make money, one must have money, at least enough to be able to get started. When opportunities arise, there are ways to get around that, but getting past the initial hurdle of needing to depend on a workaround is rarely an easy feat, and consequences can catch up with a person before they’re able to clear that stepping stone.

In 1820 Oregon, Otis Figowitz (John Magaro), better known as Cookie, works as a cook for ungrateful fur trappers. He encounters King-Lu (Orion Lee), a Chinese immigrant hiding out after he killed a Russian man for taking the life of his friend, and helps him to escape. When their paths cross again a short time later, they concoct a plan to use the milk cow owned by the wealthy Chief Factor (Toby Jones) to make biscuits. Realizing that they have stumbled upon a remarkably lucrative enterprise, Cookie and King-Lu continue secretly milking the cow each night to create a new supply of wildly popular baked goods that eventually attract the attention of the clueless Factor.

This film comes from director Kelly Reichardt, known for slow-paced, contemplative character studies like “Wendy and Lucy,” “Meek’s Cutoff,” and “Night Moves.” This fits well with those in its approach and tone, one that is most interested in getting to know Cookie and King-Lu even if not all that much happens around them. At its peak, the story is indeed interesting and engaging, but there is what feels like a lengthy introduction and epilogue in which events move at a reduced rhythm, providing the chance to truly take in these characters’ surroundings and to embrace the simplicity of a situation in which they’ve found an impressive loophole.

The performances here are very strong, and it’s great to see Magaro, a familiar recurring player from “Orange is the New Black” and other projects, in a lead role that suits him quite well. Lee is also terrific, portraying King-Lu as an equally gracious and clever entrepreneur, one aware of the potential consequences of being exposed but perfectly content to use what others don’t know about him to his advantage. This film is primarily about a friendship, one that stands out very starkly in a narrative populated by disdainful, bigoted characters who might never deign to acknowledge the existence of either protagonist.


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