Title: Cowboys & Aliens
Directed By: Jon Favreau
Starring: Daniel Craig, Harrison Ford, Olivia Wilde, Paul Dano, Adam Beach, Sam Rockwell, Noah Ringer, Keith Carradine, Walton Goggins
If you’re going to make a movie called Cowboys & Aliens, there better be some cowboys and aliens. In combining the two genres, the filmmakers had two options, miraculously create some sort of scenario that feels raw and believable or just go all out, embracing absurdities of both. Forget the fact that the former would have been a near impossible achievement; who wants to watch some schmaltzy drama about cowboys fighting aliens? The filmmakers not only go for the latter option, but they strive to outdo any expectations we might have formulated and, sure, it’s ridiculous, but the big screen is one of the best places to live out such a ridiculous fantasy.
A man wakes up in the middle of the desert with a gash in his side and some ort of metal contraption on his wrist. He’s got no clue who he is, where he came from or what happened to him. It isn’t until he moseys into the nearest town that he discovers he’s a wanted man, Jake Lonergan (Daniel Craig). Too bad it’s the town sheriff (Keith Carradine) that makes the discovery, as Jake’s got no time to escape. Just before Jake’s about to be shipped out of town, Woodrow Dolarhyde (Harrison Ford) rides in demanding he serves Jake his justice as it’s his gold he stole. The boys are distracted from their bickering by strange lights in the distance. Within seconds, they’re dead overhead and aliens are raining down their firepower on the tiny Arizona town and snatching up the citizens.
When the battle’s over Dolarhyde and his men saddle up to hunt down a wounded alien that could potentially lead them to their abducted loved ones. He insists on somewhat pushing his differences with Jake aside, as that shackle on his wrist turns out to be their only defense against the invaders. Also along for the ride is a mysterious woman named Ella (Olivia Wilde) who insists that she and Jake can work together to bring an end to this.
Who’s going to a movie called Cowboys & Aliens for anything but cowboys and aliens? In terms of the title, director Jon Favreau delivers big time. There are tons of pistol battles, dashing horses, alien ships and ETs in the flesh, too, and they’re an absolute blast to watch. The fights are well choreographed and Favreau’s got some solid coverage to work with to create a handful of well-rounded and fully comprehensible assaults. There’s also a nice balance in the effects department as CGI is only used when necessary and blends well with the practical effects.
There’s also some very successful character development, which not only gives the entire plot a boost, but adds some much needed intimacy to those more wild sequences. Sure, some of the characters are Wild West clichés, but how can you make a western without those archetypes? Plus, the fact that the writers are supplanting those usual suspects and hurling them into a world where aliens exist changes their past, present and future, giving them a sense of originality.
The only character that’s tough to get a handle on is Wilde’s Emma. She’s cryptic by nature, but the mystery is taken a bit too far to the point at which Wilde’s performance becomes a bit irritating and laughable, ultimately killing the effect of the big revelation. On the other hand, the rest of the cast is able to take their characters and bring them to life in the best ways possible. Craig was made for a role like this. He’s serious enough to convince us that he’s the hardened loner that strolled into town type, yet gives Jake a little room to breathe to make him the slightest bit endearing. As for Ford, he’s having an absolute blast with Dolarhyde and it’s a ton of fun to watch.
Sam Rockwell also offers an amusing performance as the town pub owner and mid-battle medic, Doc. His wife is lassoed up by the invaders and his broken heart is one of the most charming parts of the film. Doc also boasts a nice chunk of the piece’s comedy, his dialogue coming packed with well-timed one-liners. Noah Ringer steps out of the Last Airbender haze to play Emmett Taggart, a young boy hoping to find his grandfather who’s also been taken. He’s got a nice heart-to-heart with Ford and has a few suspenseful especially close encounters. Cowboys & Aliens is an achievement in terms of character work as it delivers a group of particularly memorable people, main players and supporting ones.
Amidst all the fun that’s to be had here, there’s no denying that this story is downright ridiculous. Again, the parts with Wilde’s character boarder indigestibly absurd, but this is a movie about cowboys fighting aliens; what else would you expect? In fact, it’s the filmmakers’ choice to go all the way that makes Cowboys & Aliens successful. There’s no tiptoeing around the ludicrousness of having ETs invade the Wild West; they go for it, summoning every cliché in the book, pumping up the story big time and sloshing it all in out-of-this-world effects. The sensation Cowboys & Aliens evokes is reminiscent of Starship Troopers. Just about everything in it is downright ridiculous, but it’s such an amusing and enjoyable fantastical adventure, who cares?