Cowboys (2020)

The Western genre gets completely turned on its head in Anna Kerrigan’s soulful Cowboys, as the writer/director challenges the traditionally accepted roles of the genre with glowing success.

Missing are the busty brothel workers and leather-clad cowboys who open whiskey bottles with their teeth, replaced by a father with mental health issues and his trans-gender son. But totally intact are the beautiful Montana vistas and bold sense of independence and adventure on horseback. Altogether Western, yet thoroughly modern.

"big-hearted father and son tale works as both a breathtaking grand spectacle as well as a pinpoint examination of family and acceptance"


Married couple Troy (Steve Zahn, TV’s Treme) and Sally (Jillian Bell, Britney Runs a Marathon) appear to be the typical family – happy and loving with a great relationship they share with their only young daughter Josie (Sasha Knight). That is until Josie comes out to her father as trans. She doesn’t want to play with the dolls her mother buys. She’d rather ride horses, learn to fish, and read Cowboy Tom and the Apache Way. Troy accepts the news and embraces his son for what he is, while mother Sally struggles to accept the new reality that she has a son rather than a daughter. Ironically, the wilderness and the freedom it provides, presents the perfect opportunity for Joe to thrive as his new self. But not so much for the family unit itself.

As might be expected, the newfound domestic tension causes all kinds of family chaos, so Troy picks up and sets out into the wilderness, Canada-bound, with Joe and the horse they stole from Troy’s AA sponsor. The problem is, he failed to inform Sally who has since called the local law authorities. With a region-wide manhunt underway, Troy and Joe make their way for the Canada border.

Kerrigan’s taut script is only matched by the master class performances on display from every one involved. Zahn turns in one of the best of his career as the wheels-off but loving dad, while Bell’s calculated take on a conservative mother trying to reconcile her trans-phobic mindset with the loss of a daughter is impressive stuff. A scene she shares with Troy in which she blames him for “messing up” their daughter feels so real and is absolutely heartbreaking. As the official tasked with tracking down Troy and Joe, is the local Flathead Police Department detective Faith, played by Ann Dowd. Dowd is great in just about everything she does – see The Handmaid’s Tale – and she certainly keeps that streak alive here.Cowboys (2020)

Then there is Sasha Knight, the young trans actor in his debut role who lays down a frighteningly realistic depiction of a child faced with the earth-shattering task of coming out to a parent. Hats off to Kerrigan, for realizing that those emotions could only feel genuine coming from a trans actor, and a special kudos for discovering Knight. This kid is going somewhere!

Also deserving mention is the cinematography of John Wakayam Carey which brings the wilds of Montana to life as a living, breathing character while simultaneously capturing the horrors of a family falling apart. He perfectly offsets the vivid colors and grand open spaces of big sky country with the stifling washed-out closeness of the family and hometown scenes.

Most importantly however, is Kerrigan’s heartwarming script which takes the bones of an old-fashioned Western and brands it with a modern-day spin on the old adage that reminds us to stop pretending to be something we aren’t. While certainly not a sentiment often seen in typical Westerns, Kerrigan makes it work here. Her big-hearted father and son tale works as both a breathtaking grand spectacle as well as a pinpoint examination of family and acceptance.

5/5 stars


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Film Details

Cowboys (2020)

MPAA Rating: Unrated.
83 mins
: Anna Kerrigan
Anna Kerrigan
Steve Zahn, Jillian Bell, Sasha Knight
: Drama | Western

Memorable Movie Quote:
Samuel Goldwyn Films
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Synopsis: A troubled but well-intentioned father who has recently separated from his wife runs off with his trans son into the Montana wilderness after his ex-wife's refusal to let their son live as his authentic self.


Cowboys (2020)