For everyone Film review: First Cow

John Magaro in First Cow. (Photo supplied)


If there were any justice in the world, American writer/director Kelly Reichardt would be a household name like Scorsese, Spielberg or Lynch. Given her command of the form and an innate understanding of humanity, we’ll leave it up to you to decide why a director who consistently delivers gold like Certain Women, Meek’s Cutoff or Wendy and Lucy doesn’t enjoy the same level of fame.

She had to scrape by on $30,000 to make her magnum opus, First Cow. Opening this year’s digital-pivot MIFF, it’s a remarkable testament to her storytelling abilities.

The simple but lyrical premise sees a harangued gold digger’s cook (John Magaro) strike off on his own. Founding a firm friendship with a Chinese prospector on the run (Orion Lee) and a cow belonging to a snooty English overlord (a wonderfully slimy Toby Jones), they ‘borrow’ the cow’s milk at night for a side-hustle selling yummy oily cakes at market.

The film’s framing mechanism lets us know their fate, yet still leaves room for ambiguity in a rich tale of male friendship that transcends mundanity to soar into the sublime.

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