You just feel sad when you see an awful title and a poster for a film that desperately needs the extra attention. First Cow presents itself to you with the most boring artwork you’ll come across this year (it’s a cow just being alone) along with colour yellow splattered all over the promotional material. Neither of these choices made any sense to me before and neither do they after watching. Sure you could argue that there’s a momentum shift when the titular cow appears but the themes are already present at that point. Then talking about the yellow, it could seem nitpicking but when you have such a well crafted story in hand you’d wish the colours would match. And you can’t underline enough the fact that it is well crafted and written.
Even though a few years ago I would’ve skipped this to catch something more visually striking, I’m very happy that I don’t do that often now. First Cow was envisioned by Kelly Reichardt who directed, co-wrote (with Jon Raymond) and edited it. Her and Raymond’s beautiful script is the most fascinating thing about the movie as it very often diverts the expectations like for example not settling for a chase sequence or big gunfire when these types of western dramas do. Instead it really delves into the main theme of the film which is friendship or companionship depending how you look at it. Tension and tender moments aren’t carried by explosive dialogue but they are built with stunning sound choices or keeping the shot locked.
The friendship in the film wraps around a cook nicknamed Cookie and an immigrant King-Lu (played by John Magaro and Orion Lee, respectively) who Cookie finds running from Russians whilst naked. After both get to help each other out at one point, they come up with a business plan. Both Magaro and Lee play their subdued roles with such poise that you can’t help but get invested for their journey despite what you see in the beginning. They get to shine especially in the scenes with the rich man in town, Chief Factor who is played by Toby Jones. One thing that took me out of the movie was much of the cinematography. There is an obnoxious, artificial film grain added (it’s shot digitally) which combined with the 4:3 aspect ratio feels super tacky. There are long parts when the shots are so dark that you can’t distinguish anything, even when things are happening acting-wise.
Smileys: Screenplay, John Magaro, Orion Lee, sound mixing
Frowneys: Cinematography (mostly)
I get that you want to be indie but you don’t want to be on the i-want-this-to-die-monetarily level.