Les Cowboys, a multilayered, absorbing story about the search for a French girl who goes missing with her Muslim boyfriend, starts out in a very un-French way: with cowboys, horses, a Marlboro Man-like billboard, and Country and Western music.
We feel like we could be in Montana. But soon, the tribute to the American frontier takes a dark turn when Alain (Francois Damiens, excellent) discovers that his 16-year-old daughter, Kelly, has disappeared from the cowboy carnival without a trace.
Thus begins Alain’s obsessive hunt, which has an undercurrent of anti-Islamic prejudice. The father’s search continues even after Kelly writes the family to inform them that she’s enjoying her new (i.e., Muslim) life and doesn’t want to be found.
Despite the toll on his marriage, Alain — with his son Georges in tow – ventures from place to place, acting on any clue about Kelly’s whereabouts.
It’s John Ford’s The Searchers, French style, but director Thomas Bidegain has given the premise a unique flavor, crafting a fine, timely screenplay that skips over some years of the story but still allows us to fill in the blanks.
The only rough transition is when Georges (Finnegan Oldfield) takes over the search for Alain. We not only miss the loose-cannon Alain, but also aren’t completely convinced from Oldfield’s performance that Georges shares his father’s obsession with finding Kelly.
Yet Georges ends up in Pakistan looking for his sister and gets involved in some improbable trouble.
Fortunately, Bidegain corrects these missteps with a finale that is unforgettable. Without a word being spoken, he speaks volumes about contemporary European society, and the religious gulf that faces the world today.
Exclusive: Angelika Dallas
☆☆<z_sym_star><z_sym_star> (out of five)
Director: Thomas Bidegain
Cast: Francois Damiens, Finnegan Oldfield, John C. Reilly
Rated: R (brief violent image, a scene of drug use)
Running time: 104 min.