This is a western with a difference. Opening in the present with the gruesome and mysterious discovery of two skeletons buried side by side, we are suddenly transported into the 1820s and a cantankerous beaver-trapping party. Cookie (John Magaro) is failing to do his job and comes across a naked Chinaman King-Lu (Orion Lee) whom he helps escape before doing the same.
They gravitate into an unlikely friendship when they meet again in a rundown trading post, sharing both hearth and ambition – to open a hotel, using Cookie’s expertise and King’s cunning. The road to their riches and their inevitable ruin lies in the arrival of the factor’s jersey cow who has a lineage as long as your am. The cunning plan is to avail themselves of her milk and produce lip-smacking oily cakes which are the talk of the town. Soon the factor – a gloriously pompous Toby Jones – himself comes to taste the delicious cakes: “I taste London in this cake, a bakery I once knew in South Kensington. Astonishing!” Will he realise that they contain milk in a town where his cow is the sole provider? The result is a request to bake a clafouti for an extortionate price, a risky move…
This is the tender story of a bromance in an unhospitable land, beautifully told and shot with great artistry. The characters in the frontier town – the rough Scots and Irish trappers, the local lunatic, and ‘tame’ native American servants – provide a convincing backdrop for our two protagonists. Director Kelly Reichardt has adapted her frequent collaborator Jonathon Raymond’s novel, The Half-Life, into this visceral and absorbing movie where, even when we know what to expect, we hold our breath and hope for the best.