Cowboys and Aliens (2011)
Directed by: Jon Favreau
Written by: Alex Kurtzman, Damon Lindelof, Hawk Ostby, Mark Fergus, Roberto Orci, Scott Mitchell Rosenberg, Steve Oedekerk
Starring: Daniel Craig, Harrison Ford, Olivia Wilde, Paul Dano, Sam Rockwell
COWBOYS AND ALIENS
RUNNING TIME:118 mins
DISTRIBUTED BY Universal Pictures
REVIEWED BY:Dr Lenera, Official HCF Critic
In the Old West, a man wakes up in the middle of the desert, with no memory of who he is or how he got there, and with a strange metal bracelet around one of his arms. After dispatching of some miscreants who try to kill him, he wanders into the town of Absolution, where he involves himself in another fight and a woman recognises him. He is knocked out and imprisoned, where it is revealed he is Jake Lonergan, an outlaw wanted for murder. Suddenly some alien ships appear to attack the town and carry off some of the locals into the ships by ropes that stick to them. Lonergan’s bracelet activates and he is able to kill some of them, but it is too late, the aliens disappear. He decides to join a rescue party led by grumpy Civil War vet Woodrow Dolarhyde……..
Cowboys And Aliens has been a bit of a disappointment at the American box office either, though that may be due to the fact that Westerns rarely do well when released during the summer ‘blockbuster’ season. The kids obviously don’t like ‘em, you see, ‘cos they’re old fashioned…..or something. This is a shame, because this movie, while certainly very flawed, is a really enjoyable two hours of escapism. It basically delivers what the title promises: cowboys….and aliens, or to be more precise, cowboys fighting aliens, and nothing more. Perhaps the idea of cowboys fighting aliens is better as a concept than an actual movie, and it is definitely the script for this film that lets it down a bit, but overall the premise is handled about as well as one could expect. They could have gone down the ‘silly’ route, with lots of mocking of western cliches for a start, in fact I expected the filmmakers to do this, but no, they deal with the premise as seriously as possible. Which can’t be that seriously, considering the premise itself, but you get the idea.
The first third or so of Cowboys And Aliens is very good indeed, a cracking Western with plenty of action and a mystery at its core, the only out of place thing being the metal thing round Lomergan’s arm. There’s a real feel for the West here, with everything looking and feeling authentic, and Daniel Craig being perfect as an archetypal Western hero who is mysterious, quiet, tough and quicker on the draw than anyone else. You almost don’t want the aliens to turn up, but soon they do, in a really exciting and intense scene with a real feeling of panic, and fantastic and rather dark imagery of people being swooped up by ropes [a variation on lassooing, I suppose]. Then the film turns into a rescue mission as everyone sets off to rescue their loved ones, and I feel the film dipped a little here. I think the story could have gone down more interesting routes.
Still, never mind, the action keeps on coming and eventually explodes into an all-out melee between…………cowboys and aliens., or should I say cowboys, indians and aliens. Both ‘Indiana Jones’ Harrison Ford and ‘James Bond’ Daniel Craig are given tons of heroics to do, my favourite being a 007-like bit where Craig’s Lonergan jumps on an alien spacecraft off a cliff. All this is with a surprising amount of brutality, with bullets, arrow, teeth and other things bloodily piercing bodies, at least one solid ‘jump’ moment and at least two scenes which have real fear in them, one involving a young boy hiding from an alien, and one involving aliens doing nasty things to a victim who is still alive. Of course there’s nothing graphic, but there is a real hard edge to this movie which surprised me [but then the ‘12A’ certificate seems to be so wide- ranging these days].
Now this project has been in development hell for ages and has had various treatments and screen plays, but you can’t tell me that the script by the five people that was finally used was better than all the others? Yes it starts fine and allows for action every ten or fifteen minutes but becomes really quite stupid in the second half, with one particularly dumb revelation about Alice the main female character [oddly the second stupid revelation about a female heroine I’ve seen in a film this week, the first being in Monsterwolf!]. In fact nothing about this person makes sense, and I get the feeling that much character development all-round has been cut, either from the script or from the actual film. Of course you don’t necessarily need tons of this stuff in a film like this, but you do need to care about the people in it, and to be honest I didn’t very much. Still, the CG effects are mostly pretty good, though the aliens just look like almost every other alien in a film these days [can’t they come up with anything else?]. Jon Favreau is great at directing this kind of stuff though, with his cutting very reminiscent of Steven Spielberg and you can see what is going on.
Of course much of the fun of this film is in seeing Ford and Craig together, and their chemistry is a joy to watch. I think Ford though overdoes the bitterness and the scowling, whilst Craig overdoes the brooding and the scowling. Honestly, they both scowl almost continuously throughout, and whilst I’m sure they had fun making this movie, they could have shown it a bit more. I will say though that Craig looks a perfect Western hero and he should maybe do some more. Harry Gregson-Williams provides a fairly exciting score that somehow manages to avoid the usual Western movie ‘sound’, while still seeming appropriate to this movie and comes up with some really chilling musical sound effects for the aliens. Matthew Libatique’s photography gives the proceedings a real Western ‘look’- whilst not as obviously stylish and nice looking as something like True Grit, the movie does look great and even realistic, which is perhaps a strange thing to say about a film called Cowboy And Aliens. Several things in this film could have been better, but how good could it really have been, honestly? It could, and possibly ought, to have been a million times worse, and I honestly had a really fun time watching it. Switch your brain off and enjoy.