Set in the 1820s, on America’s Pacific Northwest frontier, First Cow has a deceptively simple premise: two entrepreneurs team up to sell cakes to the grizzled trappers and gold hunters living on the edge of civilization. Serving a captive market that is starved of luxury is soft-spoken baker Cookie Figowitz (John Magaro), and King Lu (Orion Lee), the enterprising pioneer he helped escape from a band of Russian hunters.
The only problem with their business is that it is built on stolen goods. Specifically, the milk from a bewildered local landowner Chief Factor’s (Toby Jones) cow. A creature of almost mythical significance, the cow is the first in the territory, and its pilfered milk enables the men to produce such delicacies that it isn’t long before they’re invited into Factor’s home to bake for visiting dignitaries.
Such schemes can only operate for so long though. Indeed, First Cow sees director Kelly Reichardt (Certain Women, Meek’s Cutoff) continue her intricate exploration of the outer edges of American civilisation and its almost incidental brutality. The languid pacing and gentle observational humour work in service of a deceptively sharp vision of a country in which dreams often require deadly wagers.