First Cow Blu-ray Review: Striking Gold and Finding Friendship

Kelly Reichardt's lovely western focuses more on character than it does genre tropes.
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This tumultuous year saw several films see a brief theatrical release before being pulled altogether. Unless it was something that came from the Mouse House or had another major studio backing, a lot of those films would end up getting lost in the streaming service shuffle. Kelly Reichardt’s First Cow is just one of the many titles that were getting its rollout underway before the shutdown. Readily available to watch at home since June, the movie is more of an old-timey western that deserves the big screen over the small screen. It’s gorgeous, no matter how you watch it, but the bigger you can go, obviously, the better.

First Cow is a western, but it’s not of the same breath as many that populate the genre. It puts its attention more on its characters and the drama surrounding them than it does follow the normal routine of dealing every issue with a gun battle. It’s more of a slow-burning character study about friendship and entrepreneurship.

The story takes place in 1820s Oregon. One of the men at the center of the story is Cookie (John Magaro), who is a cook for a group of prospectors. One day, Cookie comes across a man named King Lu (Orion Lee), who has no clothes and is starving for anything. Rather than alert his group, who constantly bully him, Cookie assists King Lu in escaping and finding clothes and food.

The two embark on an unexpected friendship, which leads them to the spotting of a cow being brought into the area. The first cow, as the title suggests. Originally meant for the Chief Factor (Toby Jones), Cookie sees it as an opportunity to start something that would be something useful for the village in which they are currently occupying - and also financially beneficial for him and King Lu. The two start making biscuits, which are a hit, and all thanks to the cow’s milk. Of course, the demand becomes higher, and the risks become loftier.

First Cow is shot in 4:3 format, giving the film that old-fashioned feel and transports the viewer to what feels like an old tale being told to someone for the first time. The chemistry between Magaro and Lee is truly magnificent, and it never feels like Reichardt is forcing the viewer to grow attached to their friendship or their story. Her direction is subtle and easily digestible, and the viewer just sits back and watches the beauty unfold.

The one problem is there is a prologue scene that feels a tad unnecessary, but it doesn’t impact the film overall. It only lasts about a minute, but, once the film reaches its conclusion, it comes across as something that didn’t need to be in the film. Aside from that, though, First Cow is a lovely film that shows what the meaning of true friendship is.

While shot in 4:3, the Blu-ray is presented in 16x9 widescreen with a 1.33:1 aspect ratio. The audio track is a 5.1 DTS-HD Master track, and perfectly picks up the sounds and music that are in the movie. The only special feature is a 26-minute behind-the-scenes look at the making of the film. It features interviews with Reichardt and also the author of the novel, The Half Life, on which the movie is based, as well as other cast and crew members.

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