Do not come to this movie for the title. A brief musical interlude at the beginning is one’s only respite from a world of prejudice and fright. Come to it for the message about Islam, tolerance, and family ties.
ISIS is so ubiquitous in our media and political conversation that it has become a joke, especially for us Americans. We are far away across the ocean, free from any real danger unless we directly venture into the fray. This is not the case for Europe, as Les Cowboys reminds viewers. In fact, as a New York Times expose revealed two summers past, many new jihad recruits are European or American-born young men and women seeking out a purpose in life. And people forget that not all Muslim converts are jihads- that some people simply do find solace in Islam that they didn’t have in their lives before.
The similarities this movie bears to the Liam Neeson “Taken” films are numerous, not least of which with the father constantly having outbursts that border on violent. With his son as his sidekick, the father sets out to find his daughter and bring her home, convinced that she’s been kidnapped by Islam extremists. This subject is extremely topical for an increasingly xenophobic and frightened France and now Belgium, where attacks from ISIS and departed citizens have led to widespread panic and crackdowns on Muslim populations. Once we meet the daughter, and discover she’s actually content where she is, happy to lead this new life as a conservative Muslim woman, it’s very strange. As Westerners watching, it’s not quite understandable. For the father and son, it certainly isn’t. But her brother Georges accepts her choice, recognizing that it is her life to lead.
What kind of effect this movie can have on a world where converting to Islam puts a price tag on someone’s head and gets them on a list watched by the feds is uncertain. Certainly the French are not portrayed in the best light here, but the foreignness of conservative Islam still comes across. Muslims are not terrorists. Any child that grows up and decides to leave their parents’ side will cause heartbreak, but the heartbreak in this case is overshadowed by the nature of current events in the world today. The film is moving, slow, and deeply ironic. Whether it can change minds has yet to be seen.