Written & Directed by: #AnnaKerrigan
As part of BFI Flare: London LGBTIQ+ Film Festival 2021
Cowboys is a thought-provoking drama set in the vistas of the Montana wilderness, starring Steve Zahn as a troubled father that runs off with his trans son to escape his ex-wife’s (Jillian Bell) unwavering grip and find a new life together. His son, Joe (Sasha Knight), is transitioning from his assigned gender at birth; until now, he has always felt out-of-place in his body. Through a story that intercuts between past and present, we learn more about Joe, his father Troy and their bond as it develops on a sparse trek through stunning woodlands, hills and lakes.
This is a pleasant film that really takes its time with the characters. Troy is a complex man who unfortunately, even with his support for his son, isn’t the best fit for what he imagines to be a rescue mission. His personal problems interfere with his actions at times, and that can be troublesome not only for himself but for those around him. Beneath his rugged edge, there is a heart, and his dedication to creating a better life for his son is admirable. Joe confesses to him in one of the film’s flashbacks that he has always felt like an alien put him in the wrong body as a joke, and though Troy is shocked at first, he begins to understand him and tries to discuss it with his wife, Sally. Bell’s performance is well-textured; she brings out the conflict within the character as she attempts to come to terms with the changes her son is going through. There’s a great deal of back-and-forth between Bell and Zahn in these moments, in fact, they’re mostly butting heads the whole way.
As Cowboys unfolds, the relationships are held together by a strain as cops are involved, hot on Troy and Joe’s trail, and the two of them start to realise that perhaps leaving in the dead of night without a plan wasn’t the best idea. In terms of storytelling, the handling of Joe’s character is focused and well-rounded. Knight and Zahn communicate more-so with a subtle look than words, and their dives into the nitty gritty of their respective characters is pretty neat. We see the biggest evolution within the mother, who, in the absence of her son, seemingly sinks into deep regret, sparking a new mindset that could help her reconnect.
Given the film’s discussion of trans people, it’s quite refreshing to see a piece like this that not only respects it, but invests in it. It isn’t a perfect film by any means, but there is something quite special about it, not to mention it also looks gorgeous. There are bridges burning and repairing as the film ticks by at its meandering pace, but the place it ends up, though a little too clean and tidy, is fulfilling.
BFI Flare runs from March 17th - 28th, for more info visit: