Les Cow­boys

LES COW­BOYS, drama, rated R, in English and French with sub­ti­tles, The Screen, 2.5 chiles

Pasatiempo - - CONTENTS - — Robert Nott

Me­dia re­ports of ev­ery­day Amer­i­cans join­ing Is­lamic mil­i­tants in car­ry­ing out ter­ror­ist at­tacks give Thomas Bide­gain’s Les Cow­boys par­tic­u­lar sig­nif­i­cance just now. Some see the film as a mod­ern-day French re­make of John Ford’s The Searchers, but the sim­i­lar­i­ties are su­per­fi­cial. Yes, it’s about two men look­ing for a fam­ily mem­ber who has sud­denly dis­ap­peared into an­other land and cul­ture. But Les Cow­boys never quite delves deeply enough into the mo­ti­va­tions of these three peo­ple — fa­ther, son, and daugh­ter — to do what they do. And by adding sur­prise af­ter sur­prise within the sto­ry­line — and this is a film of sur­prises, to its credit — it con­tin­u­ally strays from its nar­ra­tive, mak­ing you won­der what it’s try­ing to say.

De­spite these flaws, Les Cow­boys — co-writ­ten by Bide­gain and Noé De­bré — main­tains in­ter­est and packs an emo­tional wal­lop be­fore the clos­ing cred­its roll. Its at­tempt at po­lit­i­cal and cul­tural com­men­tary, though, gets some­what lost as we fol­low the ef­forts of mid­dle-aged fa­ther Alain (François Damiens) and his son Ge­orges (Fin­negan Old­field) to find Alain’s daugh­ter Kelly (Iliana Za­beth), who has will­ingly in­te­grated her­self into Is­lamic so­ci­ety. Ev­ery new ter­ror­ist at­tack against the U.S. and France makes the duo won­der if Kelly was in­volved — some­thing they be­lieve goes against her up­bring­ing and the fam­ily’s love of Amer­i­can cow­boy cul­ture, in­clud­ing two-step­ping, singing fron­tier bal­lads, and horse­back rid­ing.

Mod­ern-day cow­boys, even those from France, know that a man’s gotta do what a man’s gotta do, even if he alien­ates ev­ery­one he loves, breaks a few rules, and kills some­one in a not-so-good-old-fash­ioned gun duel. When an ami­able but shifty Amer­i­can un­der­cover op­er­a­tive (nicely played by John C. Reilly) shows up on a horse and hol­sters a gun to join in the hunt across the Pak­istani prairie for very dif­fer­ent rea­sons, the film al­most cap­tures the feel and weight of those clas­sic cow­boy movies, es­pe­cially with Reilly spout­ing such lines as, “There’s no room for peo­ple like us back where we’re from. We take up too much space.”

One of our he­roes fol­lows the cow­boy code to an un­for­tu­nate end. The other learns to bend with it and re­al­izes his long jour­ney was ac­tu­ally a search for him­self. Un­like The Searchers, Les Cow­boys is re­ally about a man who finds some­one to re­place the per­son for whom he was look­ing.

Les Cow­boys is worth a look but still frus­trat­ingly off-tar­get — a film that, un­like its main pro­tag­o­nist, is un­able to find it­self.

France’s an­swer to John Wayne? François Damiens, sec­ond from left

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