In “Les Cowboys” (or simply “The Cowboys” if you prefer) director Thomas Bidegain attempts to bring a modern French flavor to the John Ford western “The Searchers”. It’s certainly not the easiest undertaking considering the lofty status of the 1956 John Wayne classic, but Bidegain isn’t simply rehashing old material. He has his own story to tell. He just happens to nestle it within this well made homage.
Oddly enough the film begins at an American cowboy festival in France. Yep, a French hoedown complete with Stetsons, Wrangler jeans, line dancing, and the Tennessee Waltz. The entire cowboy fair is a celebration of the American country/western culture and you can’t help but giggle at the entire thing. At the same time it kinda fits with the story that will follow.
This is where we meet Alain (Francois Damiens), his wife Nicole (Agathe Dronne), his teenaged daughter Kelly (Iliana Zabeth), and son Georges (Finnegan Oldfield). They seem like a normal, tight-knit family, well liked by everyone else in attendance. But as the family prepares to leave after a full day of festivities they notice Kelly is missing.
It’s hard to gauge how much more I should say about the story. It takes several dramatic turns and becomes a much different film as it moves forward. Alain’s obsession to find his daughter is both understandable and sympathetic. But it consumes Alain to the point where he loses everything. Bidegain doesn’t give a black-or-white depiction of Alain’s state of mind. Constant dead-ends drive his obsession to darker more complex places.
A significant hunk of the story focuses on Alain’s son Georges. He joins the hunt for his sister, but pulls back after witnessing what it does to his father. Much like his father, his life is dramatically changed due to the disappearance of Kelly. It allows for an interesting conversation on grief, family communication, religion, and more. Bidegain has the writing chops having penned the scripts for “The Prophet” and “Rust and Bone”. Here we get some of the same intriguing character exploration.
I’ve tried dancing around the details of “Les Cowboys” simply because specific details drastically alter the course of the story. Knowing them in advance would cost the film its edge. As it takes these turns the film ventures into several unexpected areas both narratively and geographically. It can be a bit clunky especially with its use of time lapses and setting changes. But if you’re able to navigate those storytelling hurdles “Les Cowboys” gives you plenty of emotional meat to chew on.
VERDICT – 3.5 STARS