Having both escaped dangerous circumstances in the wilds of mid-nineteenth century Oregon, a baker aptly nicknamed Cookie (Magaro) and Chinese immigrant King-Lu (Lee) meet by chance at a small, remote outpost called Fort Tillicum, and an alliance is born. Cookie seems like a docile fellow who just wants to survive, but King-Lu is full of dreams and ambition. To raise money for an escape to greener pastures, they start a soon thriving biscuit business, leveraging Cookie’s skills as a baker. This involves secretly milking the cow of the territory’s governor (Jones) after hours, a considerable risk. Will the two men’s luck hold out?
Reichardt’s deceptively simple Western fable succeeds as much on mood and atmosphere as on story. The intimacy of the story and immediacy of the camera place us right beside the two protagonists in this muddy, godforsaken hellhole where there’s no sign of permanency, and no guarantee of survival. The fact that the milk from this solitary cow is like gold bullion speaks volumes about the world they inhabit. Their surreptitious use of the governor’s property cannot end well, but still we root for these unlikely partners. Jones is also a welcome addition as the foppish governor, who seems comically out of place in this primitive land. Reichardt’s distinctive voice and vision make this “Cow” well worth milking yourself.