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  Cowboys Father For Justice
Year: 2020
Director: Anna Kerrigan
Stars: Steve Zahn, Jillian Bell, Sasha Knight, Ann Dowd, Gary Farmer, Chris Coy, John Reynolds, Bob Stephenson, AJ Slaght, John Beasley, Seth Breding, Angela Marshall, Steve Dodd
Genre: Drama, AdventureBuy from Amazon
Rating:  5 (from 1 vote)
Review: Troy (Steve Zahn) has made a big mistake, but typically of him he's trying to stay positive about it, having whisked away his eleven-year-old Joe (Sasha Knight) from his wife Sally (Jillian Bell), who he is separated from. Actually, he was only supposed to see Joe once a week thanks to a court order after being arrested for violent behaviour, and he is on strong medication which is supposed to keep his activities in check, but as he and the child head off into the Montana wilderness aiming to reach Canada, the horrified Sally has no choice but to call the police. Sheriff Faith (Ann Dowd) arrives to garner the details from her, but the mother has left out one crucial matter: she sees Joe as her daughter, but the kid identifies as a boy...

This well-meaning drama with adventure overtones was the feature debut of Anna Kerrigan, who was by no means a newcomer, but should have gained recognition for bringing Steve Zahn back to the limelight in a starring role. Always an engaging performer, he proved his mettle as the deadbeat through no fault of his own dad whom his offspring regards as a role model, which is intended to explain why the child is transgender. If that sounded simplistic, then that was about the level this operated on, preaching to the choir as far as the accompanying issues went, but unlikely to be sought out by anybody with no desire to understand more about the condition (for want of a better word). While it was a sympathetic work, dramatically it was rather inert.

This was down to the framework, largely, as it started near the end of its journey and resorted to flashback structure to explain itself, leading to a story that kept retracing its steps to the point of redundancy. Not helping was that in its attempt to portray Joe, Kerrigan merely had him as a little girl rejecting what they saw as oppressive stereotypes of that gender, only to embrace obsessively the oppressive stereotypes of a different gender - was that really how this operated? It came across as simplistic, even reductionist to state that what every female to male trans kid wanted was to be a cowboy and shoot guns, when there were such things as cowgirls and no law against women shooting guns either. But then again, the film did not give itself very much space to explore what was a psychologically complex subject.

There was a lot of space in the story, the wide open spaces of the visuals that was, as Kerrigan expressed a good eye for the landscape, and for some that may be enough motive to stick with it. Another was that while Bell was landed with angry mom cliches with her character's lack of perception or acceptance, Zahn was well-cast in a part where he made us realise the problems were not so much with the child, more with the parent for giving them a false idea of how the world worked out, that American fault of romanticising the individual to the point of self-centred fixation: who was Troy really taking flight for, himself or his child? That was a more dramatically fruitful set of circumstances than the alternatives we were requested to be interested in: Dowd, a terrific actress, was stuck in a nothing cop role that Harvey Keitel had done a small wonder with in Thelma & Louise, but no such luck here, and one didn't want to be cruel, but Knight was not exactly the most expressive young actor you've ever seen. Therefore you had a movie with its heart in the right place but was worthy and difficult to get excited about in practice. Music by Gene Back.

[Cowboys is on Curzon Home Cinema and digital download 7 May 2021 from Blue Finch Film Releasing.]
Reviewer: Graeme Clark


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