Linda Cook review: ‘First Cow’ will moo-ve indie-film lovers

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This film will moo-ve indie-movie lovers.

It’s an understated movie, at times melancholy and at times humorous, with powerful themes about friendship and how much control the powerful can have on those around them.

The movie begins in contemporary times, when a woman and a dog stumble upon two skeletons. The story then takes up in the past.

Set in the Oregon territory in 1820, it’s partly the story of Cookie Figowitz (John Magaro, “Carol,”) a cook who travels with abusive fur-trappers while they make their way.

Cookie’s journey as a beleaguered semi-servant takes a surprising turn when he finds Chinese immigrant King Lu (Orion Lee, television’s “Critical”), naked and hiding in the woods after he has killed a man.

The two strike up a friendship and form a trusting bond. They end up together outside the Royal West Pacific Trading Post, a rough environment where people live by their wits and their strength – not necessarily in that order.

The two become entrepreneurs of sorts when they discover Chief Factor, a wealthy man (Toby Jones, thoroughly enjoyable as the despicable snob) has brought a cow.

They begin to steal milk at night to produce what they call “oily cakes,” which become a hit with the settlement residents. They also catch the attention of Chief Factor, who suspects they are taking advantage of him – what, after all, could their “secret ingredient” be except for milk?

Director Kelly Reichardt makes movies with uncomplicated narratives about struggling characters with complex lives – I love her “Wendy and Lucy” and highly recommend it. The movie is – somewhat loosely, as I understand it; I haven’t read it yet – based on the book “The Half-Life” by Jonathan Raymond.

It takes its time to prove its timeless points, and will delight Reichardt and art-movie fans in general.

3 ½ stars

Rated: PG-13 for violence and foul language.

Running time: Two hours and two minutes.

Streaming on Vudu and prime video.

P. S. Evie, the cow in the title, has retired from acting and had a calf named Cookie.

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