- Colin Fraser
FOUR STARS The first cow to arrive in Oregon triggers a series of events with tragic consequences.
DRAMA US #FIRSTCOW
Alia Shawkat, John Magaro
This unlikely charmer thrives in the long, quiet moments and makes no apology for the extraordinary time it takes to get going. That too is part of its charm. And once it finally changes into top gear, you’re hooked.
In the present day, two skeletons are discovered by a hiker. In the past, they belonged to a couple of frontiersmen who made a small fortune selling drop biscuits (donuts) to fellow frontier people in the 1800s. Knowing their future, we also know how their story will end and knowing that makes their journey, not the destination, all the more compelling.
These men became unlikely friends who learned there was more than one way to make a living in this remote corner of Oregon. What made their donuts a must-have item? The rich milk used to make them, milk they stole from the local governor’s cow, the first of its kind in the area. Therein the thematic arc that runs throughout this rather beautiful western: one of survival, and of solidarity.
Some may find the run time too generous for such apparently slight material; similarly the open ending that director Kelly Reichardt does not feel compelled to tie with a neat bow won’t please all. It has a passing resonance with NOMADLAND in its low key exploration of friendship, loyalty, hope, failure, capitalism and the American mythology that binds them. Fans will revel in the austerity and unconventionality of it all. I was transfixed.
This is an unexpectedly hypnotic film, a western of sorts whose critiques are deceptive in their apparent lightness. Reichardt has a lot to say in what is an unusually tender experience given the genre. This is unlike any western you’ve seen before, and is much more interesting, much more charming, because of it.