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First Cow
First Cow poster.jpeg
Theatrical release poster
Directed byKelly Reichardt
Screenplay by
Based onThe Half Life
by Jonathan Raymond
Produced by
CinematographyChristopher Blauvelt
Edited byKelly Reichardt
Music byWilliam Tyler
Distributed byA24
Release date
  • August 30, 2019 (2019-08-30) (Telluride)
  • March 6, 2020 (2020-03-06) (United States)
Running time
121 minutes[1]
CountryUnited States
Budget$2 million+[a]
Box office$430,554[3]

First Cow is a 2019 American drama film directed by Kelly Reichardt, from a screenplay by Reichardt and Jonathan Raymond based on Raymond's novel The Half Life. It stars John Magaro, Orion Lee, Toby Jones, Ewen Bremner, Scott Shepherd, Gary Farmer and Lily Gladstone. It also features René Auberjonois in one of his final film roles.

The film had its world premiere at the Telluride Film Festival on August 30, 2019, and was also selected to compete for the Golden Bear in the main competition section at the 70th Berlin International Film Festival.[4][5] It was theatrically released in the United States on March 6, 2020, by A24 and subsequently released on VOD platforms on July 10, 2020, to acclaim from critics. It won Best Film at the 2020 New York Film Critics Circle Awards,[6] and was named one of the ten best films of 2020 by the National Board of Review.[7]


In present day, a woman walking her dog on the riverside discovers two skeletons lying together in a shallow grave.

In 1820, Otis "Cookie" Figowitz is a quiet chef traveling in Oregon Country with a group of loud and aggressive fur trappers who harass Cookie for not bringing them enough food while foraging. One night, he comes across King-Lu, a Chinese immigrant on the run for killing a Russian man. Cookie allows Lu to hide in his tent for the night and watches him escape across the river the next day.

Cookie and Lu later reunite and spend several days bonding at Lu's shack. Lu talks about his past traveling the world and his desire to own a farm. Cookie talks about his ambition to one day open either a bakery or a hotel in San Francisco. Cookie learns of the first milk cow in the region, owned by the Chief Factor, a wealthy English man with the only proper house in the settlement. The cow's mate and calf died on its journey to Oregon, making it the only cow. Cookie reminisces about his days as a baker's assistant in Boston and tells Lu that he could use some of the cow's milk to make baked goods. They sneak onto the Chief Factor's property at night, Cookie milking the cow and Lu keeping watch from a tree. They manage to get enough milk to bake a batch of biscuits without being caught. While Cookie is unsatisfied with the result, wishing it could be sweeter, Lu points out that it tastes better than any food the outpost has and that it could easily sell for a lot of money.

They take their biscuits to the market and offer to sell them. When asked how they're made, Lu claims it's a "Chinese secret." The biscuits become popular instantly and they sell out their first batch within minutes. In the days that follow, lines begin to form for people to try their biscuits.

One day, they are asked to reserve a biscuit for the Chief Factor, who has become aware of their business and is intrigued. The Chief Factor enjoys it greatly and asks Cookie to bake a clafoutis for an upcoming meeting he has with a local captain and a Native American chief. At the meeting, the Chief Factor offers tea with cream to the captain, remarking that despite the high quality breed of his milk cow, it is producing very little milk, which puts both Cookie and Lu on edge. He takes the captain, the chief, Cookie and Lu to see the cow, which recognizes Cookie and nuzzles him. After this meeting, Cookie wants to end the business and move on with Lu, but Lu wants to sell one more batch of biscuits, saying that they just need a little more money. Cookie reluctantly agrees and they go back the next night to milk the cow one more time.

A man living inside the Chief Factor's estate happens to be outside that night. Lu, seeing him, attempts to signal to Cookie, but the branch he is leaning on snaps. Cookie leaves the cow, knocking over the milk in the process, and goes to check on Lu. The Chief Factor's man hears the noise and alerts everyone in the house, believing they are under attack. Cookie and Lu run off. The Chief Factor realizes that Cookie and Lu are stealing the cow's milk and says he intends to kill them. A hunt ensues; the Chief Factor and his men corner Cookie and Lu at a cliff by a river. Lu jumps in the river and swims away while Cookie instead hides in nearby bushes. Cookie tries to run away after the Chief Factor's men leave but falls down a hill and sustains a head injury. He wakes up in a shack owned by a Native American couple, saying that he needs to find his friend.

Meanwhile, Lu hires a man who owns a canoe to take him downstream. He eventually returns to the shack, planning to retrieve the money from the tree in which they have concealed it. He hides after seeing the Chief Factor's men arrive at the shack and destroy it. After they leave, he takes the money from the tree. Cookie regains his strength and returns to the shack. He walks by the cow, now surrounded by a fence. Unbeknownst to him, the man who heard them before begins to follow Cookie, carrying a gun. Lu and Cookie reunite at the shack, and Lu suggests they catch a ride on the nearest boat going south. Cookie, still suffering from his injury, has difficulty keeping up with Lu. Eventually Cookie lies down, his injury getting worse. Lu lies down beside him, saying that they will be safe there, unaware that they are being tracked.



In October 2018, it was announced that Kelly Reichardt would direct the film, from a screenplay she wrote alongside Jonathan Raymond. Neil Kopp, Vincent Savino, Anish Savjani, Scott Rudin and Eli Bush would produce the film under their FilmScience and Scott Rudin Productions banners, respectively, while A24 would distribute.[8][9]

In November 2018, René Auberjonois was cast in the film.[10] In March 2019, it was announced that John Magaro had joined the cast of the film.[11]

Principal photography began in November 2018, taking place in Oregon like several of Reichardt's previous films.[12] The film was shot in a 4:3 aspect ratio.[13]


It had its world premiere at the Telluride Film Festival on August 30, 2019.[14] It screened at the New York Film Festival on September 28, 2019.[15] Although it was released in four theaters in the United States on March 6, 2020, the film was pulled from release by A24 on March 15, 2020, due to the COVID-19 pandemic. The film was released for purchase on VOD platforms on July 10, 2020, and became available to rent on July 21, 2020.[16]

Critical reception

On review aggregator Rotten Tomatoes, the film holds an approval rating of 96% based on 209 reviews, with an average score of 8.4/10. The website's critical consensus reads, "First Cow finds director Kelly Reichardt revisiting territory and themes that will be familiar to fans of her previous work -- with typically rewarding results."[17] On Metacritic, the film has a weighted average score of 89 out of 100, based on 41 critics, indicating "universal acclaim".[18]

A. A. Dowd and Katie Rife of The A.V. Club gave the film a positive review, praising its simplicity and precision in storytelling.[19]

At the end of 2020, 119 film critics ranked the film in their top-ten lists, including 18 ranking it first and 20 ranking it second.[20]


Award Date of ceremony Category Recipient(s) Result Ref.
Berlin International Film Festival March 1, 2020 Golden Bear Kelly Reichardt Nominated [21]
Boston Society of Film Critics Awards December 13, 2020 Best Film First Cow Runner-up [22]
Best Director Kelly Reichardt Runner-up
New York Film Critics Circle Awards December 18, 2020 Best Film First Cow Won [23]
Chicago Film Critics Association December 21, 2020 Best Film First Cow Nominated
Best Director Kelly Reichardt Nominated
Best Adapted Screenplay Jon Raymond and Kelly Reichardt Nominated
Best Cinematography Christopher Blauvelt Nominated
Best Art Direction Lisa Ward and Vanessa Knoll Nominated
Best Costume Design April Napier Nominated
Florida Film Critics Circle December 21, 2020 Best Film First Cow Won
Best Director Kelly Reichardt Runner-up
Best Actor John Magaro Runner-up
Best Adapted Screenplay Jon Raymond and Kelly Reichardt Nominated
Best Score William Tyler Nominated
Greater Western New York Film Critics Association Awards December 31, 2020 Best Picture Nominated [24]
Best Director Kelly Reichardt Nominated
Best Adapted Screenplay Jon Raymond and Kelly Reichardt Nominated
Best Cinematography Christopher Blauvelt Nominated
Alliance of Women Film Journalists January 4, 2021 Best Director Kelly Reichardt Nominated
Best Screenplay, Adapted Jon Raymond and Kelly Reichardt Nominated
Best Woman Director Kelly Reichardt Nominated
National Society of Film Critics January 9, 2021 Best Picture Runner-up
Best Director Kelly Reichardt Runner-up
Best Screenplay Jon Raymond and Kelly Reichardt Runner-up
Gotham Awards January 11, 2021 Best Feature First Cow Nominated [25]
Best Actor John Magaro Nominated
Breakthrough Actor Orion Lee Nominated
Best Screenplay Jon Raymond and Kelly Reichardt Nominated
Online Film Critics Society Awards January 25, 2021 Best Picture First Cow Nominated [26]
Best Director Kelly Reichardt Nominated
Best Adapted Screenplay Jonathan Raymond and Kelly Reichardt Nominated
Best Cinematography Christopher Blauvelt Nominated
Toronto Film Critics Association February 7, 2021 Best Film Runner-up [27]
Best Director Kelly Reichardt Runner-up
Critics' Choice Movie Awards March 7, 2021 Best Adapted Screenplay Jonathan Raymond and Kelly Reichardt Nominated [28]
Best Cinematography Christopher Blauvelt Nominated
Detroit Film Critics Society March 8, 2021 Best Picture First Cow Nominated [29]
Breakthrough Performance Orion Lee Nominated
Best Adapted Screenplay Kelly Reichardt and Jonathan Raymond Nominated
Austin Film Critics Association March 19, 2021 Best Film First Cow Nominated [30]
Best Director Kelly Reichardt Nominated
Independent Spirit Awards April 22, 2021 Best Feature Neil Kopp, Vincent Savino and Anish Savjani Nominated [31]
Best Director Kelly Reichardt Nominated
Best Supporting Male Orion Lee Nominated
British Independent Film Awards December 5, 2021 Best International Independent Film Kelly Reichardt, Jon Raymond, Neil Kopp, Vincent Savino and Anish Savjani Nominated [32]


  1. ^ Reichardt stated that First Cow was "a low-budget film, obviously, but bigger for me" and her previous films had budgets of $2 million.[2]


  1. ^ "First Cow". New York Film Festival. Retrieved August 6, 2019.
  2. ^ Paiella, Gabriella (July 21, 2020). "First Cow Director Kelly Reichardt on Making Quiet Art and the Failure of American Individualism". GQ. Retrieved December 7, 2020.
  3. ^ "First Cow". Box Office Mojo. Retrieved March 13, 2021.
  4. ^ "The 70th Berlinale Competition and Further Films to Complete the Berlinale Special". Berlinale. Retrieved 29 January 2020.
  5. ^ "Berlin Competition Lineup Revealed: Sally Potter, Kelly Reichardt, Eliza Hittman, Abel Ferrara". Variety. Retrieved 29 January 2020.
  6. ^ Awards - New York Film Critics Circle - NYFCC Retrieved 19 December 2020.
  7. ^ "Spike Lee's 'Da 5 Bloods' Named Best Film Of 2020 By National Board Of Review". Deadline Hollywood. January 26, 2021. Retrieved January 26, 2021.
  8. ^ Nordine, Michael (October 31, 2018). "'First Cow': Kelly Reichardt's Follow-Up to 'Certain Women' Is a Period Piece Set in Oregon and China". IndieWire. Retrieved March 13, 2019.
  9. ^ "Production Weekly" (PDF). Production Weekly. December 20, 2018. Retrieved March 13, 2019.
  10. ^ Auberjonois, Rene (November 30, 2018). "Oh dear! I know! I've been AWOL... a combination of family stuff, travel, and the dregs of a miserable cold (better  now!). Going to Oregon on Sunday to shoot a 'bit' on "FIRST COW" -new film by Kelly Reichardt! Excited!". Twitter. Retrieved November 30, 2018.
  11. ^ Hipes, Patrick (March 12, 2019). "John Magaro Joins 'The Many Saints Of Newark' In Reteam With David Chase". Deadline Hollywood. Retrieved March 13, 2019.
  12. ^ Lavallee, Eric (October 31, 2018). "Her Old Joy: Kelly Reichardt Finds Oregon by Way of China in "First Cow"". Retrieved March 13, 2019.
  14. ^ Hammond, Pete (August 29, 2019). "Telluride Film Festival: 'Ford V Ferrari', 'Judy', 'Motherless Brooklyn', Weinstein-Inspired Drama 'The Assistant' Among Premieres Headed To 46th Edition – Full List". Deadline Hollywood. Retrieved August 29, 2019.
  15. ^ Fleming, Mike Jr. (August 6, 2019). "57th New York Film Festival Sets Full Slate; Pedro Almodovar, Bong Joon-ho Bring Their Cannes Prize Winners". Deadline Hollywood. Retrieved August 6, 2019.
  16. ^ Kohn, Eric (June 29, 2020). "'First Cow' Will Head to VOD, and Kelly Reichardt Reconsiders Her Film's Resonance — Exclusive". IndieWire. Retrieved July 10, 2020.
  17. ^ "First Cow (2019)". Rotten Tomatoes. Fandango. Retrieved October 10, 2021.
  18. ^ "First Cow Reviews". Metacritic. Retrieved August 16, 2020.
  19. ^ Dowd, A. A.; Rife, Katie (March 6, 2020). "Gentle, Thoughtful, and Touching, First Cow Is a Quiet Hit with Our Critics". The A.V. Club. Retrieved March 6, 2020.
  20. ^ "Best of 2020: Film Critic Top Ten Lists". Metacritic. Retrieved January 12, 2021.
  21. ^ "The Awards of the 70th Berlin International Film Festival" (PDF). Berlinale. Retrieved 1 March 2020.
  22. ^ "'Nomadland' Named Best Picture at Boston Society of Film Critics Awards, Paul Raci and Yuh-jung Youn Among Winners". Variety. December 13, 2020. Retrieved December 13, 2020.
  23. ^ Davis, Clayton (2020-12-18). "New York Film Critics Circle Winners Full List: 'First Cow' Takes Top Prize". Variety. Retrieved 2020-12-19.
  24. ^ "AWARDS: Our 2020 Nominees". Greater WNY Film Critics Association. 2020-12-21. Retrieved 2020-12-21.
  25. ^ "Nominations Announced for 30th IFP Gotham Awards". Independent Filmmaker Project. November 12, 2020. Retrieved December 6, 2020.
  26. ^ Ramos, Dino-Ray (January 25, 2021). "Online Films Critics Society Unveils Annual Film Awards Recipients, Names 'Nomadland' Best Picture". Deadline Hollywood.
  27. ^ "Nomadland Leads 24th Annual TFCA Award Winners". Toronto Film Critics Association. February 7, 2021. Retrieved May 27, 2021.
  28. ^ "Film nominees for the 26th annual Critics Choice Awards have been announced". Critics Choice Association. February 8, 2021. Retrieved February 8, 2021.
  29. ^ "The 2020 Detroit Film Critics Society Awards". Detroit Film Critics Society.
  30. ^ Partridge, Jon (March 12, 2021). "2020 Austin Film Critics Association Award Nominations". Austin Film Critics Association. Retrieved May 19, 2021.
  31. ^ Lewis, Hilary; Galuppo, Mia (26 January 2021). "Film Independent Spirit Awards: 'Never Rarely Sometimes Always,' 'Minari,' 'Ma Rainey's Black Bottom,' 'Nomadland' Top Nominations". The Hollywood Reporter.
  32. ^ "'Belfast,' 'Boiling Point' Lead BIFA Nominations". British Independent Film Awards. Retrieved 4 November 2021.

See also

External links

This page was last edited on 9 November 2021, at 00:00
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