Food is a great source of richness, whether in eating it or selling it. First Cow shows this triumph in a low-key manner, quietly building up tension around this capitalist endeavour, while showing a friendship that emerges from it.
Two men on the run find each other and are able to cooperate due to their acts of kindness towards one another. Cookie (John Magaro) is an accomplished chef who pairs up with King Lu (Orion Lee) as they try to strike it rich in the new world. King Lu is a Chinese immigrant, but has been all over the world, and as he tells Cookie, everyone around the globe is coming to America for its riches.
The arrival of a cow in their district (the first in America, according to pub chatter) instigates opportunity for these two opportunistic men: steal milk from the cow at night and sell biscuits they make out of it. First Cow is the kind of film that appropriately has a high regard for food, considering the history as it portrays a new kind of feast in this part of the world. With mostly no talking, the film has a keen eye on the preparation, and enjoyment, of these treats. Even if you’re full, you’ll still get hungry watching it.
First Cow simply presents itself as a microcosm of capitalist ingenuity and the riches, and issues, that arise from it. Some clever lines arise here and there about their exploits, such as one hungry customer accusing them of holding back supply so they can raise the cost. It’s not overly-cynical with its depiction of this kind of early capitalism of America, showing how multiculturalism and the burgeoning globalisation took the greatness from other parts of the world and brought them together.
But the film loses track as it becomes less a minor representation of America’s growing success and, basically, more of a slow and quiet thriller. And although the friendship between the two men depicts how kindness in a time of violent hostility can bring great cooperation, there isn’t enough meat to this minimalistic film to make this friendship strongly felt.
First Cow places you firmly into this 1820s Northwest setting, with most of the imagery in the film filled with lush greenery and wild hardly touched vegetation, though the film coats these colours with a damp wintery tinge to make this time in history feel tiring and almost overbearing by nature. It’s truly a transportive film, with plenty of care to make this setting feel authentic, as it draws you into this small tale that seems to tell the bigger story of America.