First Cow

First Cow

Foraging for food in the Oregon woods “Cookie” Figowitz (John Magaro) finds the cowering, naked form of King-Lu (Orion Lee) in the bushes. On the run from some Russians, one of whom King-Lu may have killed, Cookie agrees to aid his escape. Meeting up later at the trappers camp, King-Lu invites Cookie to share his cabin and the two become friends.

Observing the desperate and miserable lives of the camp dwellers, they start making cakes for which the prospectors will pay handsomely. The catch? The milk for the cookies has to be stolen from the cow of fearsomely ruthless Chief Factor as played by Toby Jones. The boys seem to be onto a good thing, but like the rivers in Oregon, good things rarely run straight…

...is the head of the herd when it comes to this year's comic offerings at the Berlinale.

In a slow-paced but intimately shot western, director Kelly Reichardt delivers a merry tale of milking gone awry. With its opening credits announcing the golden participation of Toby Jones and Ewen Bremner, you instantly know you’re in a for a good time. And whilst both guarantee more-than-solid performances, it is actually the quiet bromance of John Magaro as Cookie and Orion Lee as King-Lu that steals the show as they repeatedly make off with the milk.

Employing a tone not dissimilar to John Maclean’s ‘The Sisters Brothers‘, the pace here is intentionally languid so that the chill and the monotony of a trapper’s existence can properly seep into your bones. As such, you can expect damp goings-on in the first act as Kelly Reichardt and Jonathan Raymond’s script binds you to its motley crew of characters. However, once you hit the second act, where the boys nakedly profiteer from Toby Jones’s vanity for milk in his tea, then everything sells like hotcakes.

In what ends as a sublimely-hewn comic drama, ‘First Cow’ is the clear head of the herd when it comes to this year’s comic offerings at the Berlinale. Just like when Toby Jones’s Chief Factor opines that he “can taste London” in the boys’ cakes, you too will be striking gold with this comic gem nestled in amongst the festival schedules.

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Christopher Robin
Christopher Robin