It begins with a woman finding two skeletons in a shallow grave – then we’re transported to the same place in Oregon 200 years ago, where a friendship builds between two men in a fur-trapping community, who come up with a clever (and tasty) but also dangerous business plan, involving a cow that doesn’t belong to them. The film largely ignores the novel’s modern storyline and meticulously and lovingly depicts dirt-poor life at the frontier. Very slowly, yet engagingly, Kelly Reichardt and her two leading actors make sure we care about the men’s friendship and begin to fear for the outcome of their little scheme.
2020-U.S. 121 min. Color. Produced by Neil Kopp, Vincent Savino, Anish Savjani. Directed and edited by Kelly Reichardt. Screenplay: Jonathan Raymond, Kelly Reichardt. Novel: Jonathan Raymond (”The Half-Life”). Cast: John Magaro (Otis ”Cookie” Figowitz), Orion Lee (King-Lu), Toby Jones (Chief Factor), René Auberjonois, Ewen Bremner, Scott Shepherd.
Last word: “The cow was sort of the key that unlocked the whole thing. The novel spans four decades, there’s a trip to China, King Lu is really two different characters in the novel. For a decade, I’d been saying, ‘Oh, don’t give ‘The Half-Life’ to anyone else, but I have no idea how I could ever make that movie.’ The revelation of the cow was the thing that opened the door to being able to keep all the themes and characters from the novel, and be able to do it in this passage of time that works for my filmmaking.” (Reichardt, GQ)