My experience with the minimalist work of Kelly Reichardt is limited. I had disliked her drab period piece Meek’s Cutoff, but I seemed to be in the minority; I gave her the benefit of the doubt. But after watching her latest drama First Cow, another dull yet highly acclaimed period piece, I’m sticking by my guns but I’m not so forgiving.
As mentioned, Reichardt approaches material as a minimalist. There isn’t a traditional plot at play, but a few central themes give the film its meaning and direction. In the case of First Cow, it’s a story about companionship and loyalty as two strangers – a lowly cook and a lost immigrant – help each other find their own personal purpose and lucrative success. And though it takes place in the 19th century, there’s still a recognizable dynamic involving impoverished people having their spirits break from an elitist capitalism and the odds generally being stacked against them. But instead of building on these ideas, Reichardt is desperate to capture everyday repetitiveness at the expense of having her film develop depth. Much like 2020’s The Assistant, First Cow feels more like a simulation than a film. However, The Assistant gradually would unfold to reveal more problems for its main character. First Cow is stuck in a never-ending, thinly stretched, one-note loop. It’s just not enough for Reichardt to reference modern issues and apply them to a different time period.
Much like how Shahbaz Khayambashi’s described his criticisms against The Assistant, First Cow has consistent commitment to its themes but, at this length, it’s skim on ideas.
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Addison Wylie: @AddisonWylie