Review: Cowboys & Aliens

The title implies that this should be a rollicking adventure through the wild west pitting man against extra-terrestrial in a fight to the death. Which is exactly what you get, perhaps just not quite in the way you might imagine.

The opening 30 minutes may as well be a modern western with Daniel Craig’s character, Jake Lonergan (the ‘Loner’ part giving you an idea of the silent, strong, brooding type of cowboy he plays), waking up in the middle of nowhere and quickly having to dispatch some undesirables wanting to kill him for a bounty. This scene includes some fairly gritty and bloody action which sets the course for the rest of the film. This is not going to be the cheesy affair that the title implies, but will actually take a very serious course.

After the first half an hour you have been introduced to most of the main characters including the bartender (Sam Rockwell), who isn’t given as much respect as he feels he deserves, the preacher (Clancy Brown), who plays the goodly preacher, the girl (Abigail Spencer), who seems to know a lot more about Jake than he does, Woodrow Dolarhyde (Harrison Ford), who is the cattle rancher who appears to run the town of Absolution, and his son (Paul Dano) who is a bit of a loose cannon and terrorises the people in Absolution by living off his father’s reputation.

Dolarhyde is, to my mind, the most unsympathetic role Harrison Ford has ever played; he is a ruthless, cold bully. But it is brilliant to be seeing him play such a character. Daniel Craig’s portrayal of Lonergan is a homage to the mysterious cowboy made famous by Clint Eastwood in the spaghetti westerns, and I think he really pulls off the character well. However, these are the only characters who are really fleshed out. Sam Rockwell, Paul Dano, Clancy Brown and Abigail Spencer are all hugely overlooked for bigger parts or better lines which, with their calibre, they truly deserved.

The longer I’ve left this review since seeing the film, the more I look back and see that the plot is rather two-dimensional. The people of Absolution are being abducted by aliens for some reason, though this is never truly revealed other than  that they are trying to learn our weaknesses; they are also mining gold for a reason that I really can’t remember. Lonergan and Dolarhyde have to put their differences behind them to rescue the villagers from the ‘demons’. Lonergan has on his arm a strange manacle which he doesn’t know how to work, but appears to be a weapon they will need to fight the aliens. He also has no recollection of who he is and why Dolarhyde doesn’t like him. But these things become clear to both him and the audience as the film goes on.

Along the way they team up with a group of Indians and Lonergan’s old gang of outlaws to fight the aliens at their space ship/mining vessel. The fight scene goes on for longer than the rag-tag human army would have been able to sustain. In fact there seemed to be lots more people getting slaughtered than appeared in the previous shot of them all riding towards the alien craft.

The film itself isn’t a terrible one; it just could have done with being a bit more tongue-in-cheek, like the title implies, even though the director, Jon Favreau (Iron Man 1 & 2), said that the fact that it played straight instead was the aspect that attracted Craig and Ford to the project. It looks just like a western should and the costumes and special effects are great. Which goes a long way to help you believe that the aliens could inhabit that world once they show up. There are also some genuinely tense scenes and the violence during the battle scenes in convincing without crossing over into comic-book territory.

This is a film that could have been so much more, but is still an enjoyable watch. Perhaps they should have just filmed the ‘Cowboys’ bit and left the aliens out?

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3 Responses to “Review: Cowboys & Aliens”

  1. Jo Williams Says:

    I like cowboys, but I don’t like aliens. H’ooh… ;( x

  2. I like cowboys, and I also like aliens. But which is better? …bah, nevermind.

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