Cowboys And Aliens Review

At first glance, seeing “Cowboys” and “Aliens” together in the same sentence is a little odd. Make the title of a film “Cowboys & Aliens” and it seems to be a downright awkward joke, especially when describing the western/sci-fi mashup that is due to hit theaters this week. If you’ve watched my interviews from the Cowboys & Aliens red carpet/world premiere event, in particularly the screenwriters (Roberto Orci and Alex Kurtzman) interview, you’ve heard the cast and crew describe it as such, at least initially. But dig a little deeper and you’ll find that Cowboys & Aliens is a western that just happens to have an encounter of the fourth kind smack dab in the middle of it.

The premise is straightforward. Jake Lonergan (Daniel Craig) finds himself in the middle of the desert without any memory of how he got there, who he is, who shot him, or what the odd device strapped to his wrist is. During his quest to discover his past he runs into a cast of characters, including Woodrow Dolarhyde (Harrison Ford) and Ella Swenson (Olivia Wilde), who help to piece things together… That is until an alien invasion crashes the party and begins snatching up the townspeople, at times quite violently. Comic fan zealots be warned – Although inspired by the “Cowboys & Aliens” graphic novel, creator Scott Mitchell Rosenberg (you can see my interview with him here) was more than happy to hand over the reins to Favreau and let him run with the story.

Daniel Craig and Harrison Ford are magnificent, especially when they appear onscreen together. This is one duo that I’m hoping to see more of in future films. Craig nails the “stranger with no name” from classic western films, and brings the grit that he’s famous for in his previous James Bond films. His fights are brutal, bloody, and to be honest, I loved every minute of them… Some of them actually brought back memories of The Patriot with Mel Gibson…

Harrison Ford may not get as much screen time as Craig, but his character “Woodrow Dolarhyde” is definitely just as memorable as Craig’s “Lonergan”, if not more so. Two particular scenes, one in which Ford shares with Noah Ringer, who plays “Emmett Taggart” in the film, may be one of Ford’s most memorable scenes ever. His scene towards the end of the film with Adam Beach’s character “Nat Colorado” is touching as well. Whether these two scenes in particular caught my attention because of great acting, or because I have four boys of my own, is an entirely different topic. Rest assured that Ford really delivers whenever he’s on screen and the shared scenes between Craig and Ford are not to be missed.

The supporting cast does well in their various roles. Olivia Wilde’s character Ella Swenson is the tough as nails, gun-toting chick with a cowboy hat that you can’t help but want to learn more about (not to mention watch on the big screen). Doc (Sam Rockwell) adds some very well timed humor to the film, which helps to keep it from becoming too serious. Percy Dolarhyde (Paul Dano), is great as the snotty-nosed brat of Woodrow Dolarhyde (Harrison Ford). Some of the best moments in the earlier parts of the film are when Dano shares the screen with Craig. You can just imagine what happens when the tough-as-nails Lonergan runs into the drunken and spoiled Percy Dolarhyde. Emmett Taggart (Noah Ringer) has a fairly small part, but does very well, especially later in the film. Black Knife (Raoul Trujillo) does well as the leader of the Apaches, but isn’t developed as much as I would have liked.

Although the film has a large ensemble cast, which is handled VERY well by Favreau, Orci, and Kurtzman, I have to mention the beautiful Abigail Spencer who plays “Alice”, Craig’s love interest in the film. If you’ve watched my Cowboys & Aliens red carpet interview with Abigail Spencer, you’ll notice she’s fairly reluctant to speak about her character much. You’ll find out why about halfway through the film, and I have to say I would have loved to see more screen time devoted to her character.

The film’s visual effects are topnotch. As odd as it may seem, they appear perfectly believable in the setting of the Wild West. They don’t overwhelm or dominate the film, as you might expect. Although you don’t see a lot of the aliens until the end of the film, they are superbly done and add the right amount of terror and suspense to the film. Initially they seem to be somewhat flat emotionally, until Jake Lonergan runs into one towards the end that “seems” to know him…

The cinematography by Matthew Libatique captures the grand and gorgeous landscapes you would expect to find in a western, as does the score by Harry Gregson-Williams. Both of which could be, arguably, the best that we’ve seen this summer

The plot is somewhat predictable, but I think that this is because the film is, as many of the cast and crew have stated, a western first. There are just certain things that go along with a western, and most moviegoers are familiar with them (tough and gritty gunslinger, a damsel in distress, etc.). Are there holes in the plot? Yes, one in particular involves the heroes discovering something in the middle of the desert that shouldn’t be there (you’ll know it when you see it). How this “thing” got there, and why, is an absolute mystery… Does any of this mean that the movie isn’t entertaining? Absolutely not! The interaction between the characters, the superbly choreographed fight sequences, and the special effects make this film more than what I could have hoped for as I entered the theater.

Cowboys & Aliens was a VERY unexpected surprise. It has a little of everything for everyone. Favreau manages to mash Wild West and Sci-Fi together like peanut butter and chocolate, and if you’re like me, you won’t be able to get enough. The cast and crew not only made the Wild West/Sci-Fi mashup believable, but enjoyable to watch as it unfolded.

All in all, I left the theater more tired than I was before and disappointed in one of the few movies I had hopes for all summer. The slow, sludge-like story, with the absence of great action, and a lack of real character development made for a movie that would be best suited for home viewing so that you wouldn’t feel bad about falling asleep.

Rating B+


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