Thomas Bidegain's French Western Les Cowboys, which opens this weekend at Guild 45th, starts with a father's quest and ends with a son's discovery. Alain (the steely-eyed François Damien), an appliance salesman in Rhône-Alpes, wears Stetson hats and sings country songs. When his 16-year-old daughter, Kelly, goes missing in the prelude to 9/11, he springs into action like John Wayne (or maybe even George C. Scott). Instead of a Comanche tribe, Kelly has run off with an 18-year-old Muslim. Then Alain finds out they're involved with an Islamist group, possibly Al Qaeda, so he sets out to track her down. A few years pass, and he's still looking, but now his son, Georges, aka Kid, has joined the search. Here's the thing, though: the older Kid is played by an actor (Finnegan Oldfield) who appears to be a decade older than the younger (Maxim Driesen), a contrast that proves distracting.
Further, Alain's grumpy demeanor gets to be a drag. Fortunately, even Bidegain (the writer behind Jacques Audiard's The Prophet) tires of the guy and switches the focus to Kid, who accepts a job in Pakistan as translator for John C. Reilly's bounty hunter. (Wait—how’d he get here?) The American thinks they can help each other out, but he's mostly here to give this downbeat movie a lift—and it works! What happens next comes as a complete surprise, and shifts things in a different, more optimistic direction. Though the ending deviates from The Searchers, it definitely plays like a comment on John Ford's enduring, if racially discomforting classic.