For many people, Cowboys & Aliens was a very disappointing blockbuster movie and it was dismissed by many others when it appeared to “underperform” at the box office. Well, I think that we had some definite disappointments in 2011 but I’m pretty sure the worldwide economic situation had as much of an effect as the actual quality of the movies because a film like Cowboys & Aliens does exactly what it tells you it will do and provided me with a highly entertaining couple of hours.
Explaining the plot may seem a little redundant, as it’s pretty much covered by the title, but I’ll go over some main points anyway. Daniel Craig wakes up in the desert and can’t remember anything about himself. He’s an amnesiac with no name, for a portion of the movie, and a shiny, fancy bracelet on his wrist that he can’t seem to remove. And what appears to be a bullet wound. When he reaches a small town, after a fight scene in which he shows that he at least knows how to handle himself and doesn’t mind shooting folk, he meets up with a preacher (Meacham, played by Clancy Brown) who helps tend his mysterious wound. He then bumps heads with young Percy Dolarhyde (Paul Dano), an insolent young gunslinger who avoids any proper punishment thanks to his dad being Woodrow Dolarhyde (Harrison Ford), before getting to the tavern run by Doc (Sam Rockwell). Then Olivia Wilde appears to look attractive and mysterious as the attractive and mysterious Ella Swenson. Then those titular aliens appear, riding through the town and snatching up many of the locals. People need rescued and folk need to work together if they’re going to have any chance of forming a decent plan.
A surprising number of people worked on the script for this movie, considering the simplicity of the premise, but the main thing is that the material is nicely treated by Jon Favreau, directing more big-scale action after the huge success of the Iron Man movies. He knows how to put together an attractive and entertaining popcorn flick and he does just that. The film may run for just over two hours but it has just enough action beats throughout to keep things from being dull and the character development is as enjoyable as it is predictable.
The cast all do very well. Daniel Craig holds his own quite well, and his accent isn’t all that bad, as the reluctant hero with the murky past. Harrison Ford is superb as the grumpy old man who casts a large shadow over the whole town. The truth of his character revealed as the movie progresses (both by his actions and by the words of the character Nat Colorado, played by Adam Beach) is nicely played out. Olivia Wilde is as attractive as ever. She’s a capable actress but she’s often left struggling with characters who are simply there to be a love interest or add some beauty to the screen. Sam Rockwell, Paul Dano, Clancy Brown, Buck Taylor and everyone else onscreen does just fine, providing a nice mix of familiar faces who all seem comfortable within the Western environment.
The special effects are pretty excellent throughout, there’s a surprising bloodiness to the whole endeavour and the movie really blends the old Western cliches nicely with the sci-fi elements (especially during some great action set-pieces and when the reason for the aliens actually coming to the planet is revealed). For a movie so easily summed up by it’s title, I’m surprised that so many people claimed to be disappointed by this one. It does what you expect it to do, and it does it very well.
DIRECTOR: JON FAVREAU
WRITER: ROBERTO ORCI, ALEX KURTZMAN, DAMON LINDELOF, MARK FERGUS, HAWK OSTBY
STARS: DANIEL CRAIG, HARRISON FORD, OLIVIA WILDE, SAM ROCKWELL, ADAM BEACH, BUCK TAYLOR, PAUL DANO, CLANCY BROWN
RUNTIME: 135 MINS APPROX