Cowboys & Aliens

Cowboys & Aliens is a discordant, headache inducing mess. It’s unclear whether the filmmakers meant this to be a silly, light hearted adventure or a serious sci-fi adaptation. A case could be made for either. Harrison Ford plays Col. Woodrow Dolarhyde whose successful cattle business provides the small town of Absolution with its main source of income. He growls every line in a performance that is rooted firmly in camp. His gravel voice makes Clint Eastwood’s in Gran Torino look downright mellifluous by comparison. Dolarhyde and his son Percy act as though they are above the law and they initially emerge as the chief antagonists. Daniel Craig is Jake Lonergan, the apparent hero, but deeply humorless with nary a smile. He has amnesia right from the opening scene. He appears to be a fugitive from the law based on the shackle cuffed to his wrist. But he stands up for righteousness when he opposes Dolarhyde’s son who terrorizes the town. The first third of the film feels like a classic western of good vs. evil. It’s the best part. Although the setup is clichéd, at least it does a satisfactory job of laying the groundwork for the possibility of something exciting to come.

Unfortunately the story takes a turn for the worse. Technologically advanced flying objects appear overhead and abduct many of the townsfolk. This being a western set in 1873, the anachronism could have had a significant impact. Apparently this development was not meant to be a shock since the very title gives this revelation away. Even the trailer highlighted this spectacle. Without the element of surprise, the movie lacks excitement. Even the citizens seem rather unperturbed. Lots of blasts and explosions are presented in a blazing cacophony of CGI. The intruders are overly complicated monsters that scream “check out these creature designs!” to the Academy. The visual flourishes are plentiful, but the narrative is dull. Sadly Ford and Craig never fully connect and the promised sparks between the meeting of Indiana Jones with James Bond fail to ignite. We’re also introduced to a mysterious woman who joins the group and a Native American man who is Dolarhyde’s second-in-command. They have back-stories, but they seemed perfunctory. Where the aliens come from and their purpose, have routine explanations as well.

Overall the picture fails to captivate. Jon Favreau is a talented director. A string of his productions: ElfZathura and Iron Man, were all superior successes under his guidance. Oh yeah, some guy named Steven Spielberg is one of the executive producers here as well. The fact that seven (!) writers are credited with the disorganized screenplay supports the old adage “too many cooks“. A simplified, more singular vision would have been preferable. The best special effects extravaganzas are able to work in an engaging objective that makes the endeavor interesting, irregardless of eye catching embellishments. Here, the CGI is the story. It’s telling that when key people die in the end, it causes no emotional reaction. It’s just business as usual and off to the next adventure. <Yawn>

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9 Responses to “Cowboys & Aliens”

  1. Man, this was a major disappointment. They had an interesting premise, a good director, good actors, and the movie still wasn’t good. Nice review by the way.

  2. Concise review as usual. Fun fact: this was the first film I received for my blog (though at the time it was on Blogspot; my first WordPress review was for BIG FISH). I wasn’t surprised how much you disliked it, because it did lack the chutzpah and substance crucial for any action or sci-fi film, but I enjoyed it because of the two key performances. Also, Spielberg served as exec. prod.: he’s stated several times that he wants to direct a Bond film. He came close by working with the most recent (and current) 007.

    • I thought the film assembled an incredible cast, but found the performances lacking. Harrison Ford was kind of ridiculous with his voice and Daniel Craig gave a vacant performance. Yes I know he had amnesia, but he barely had a pulse.

  3. Agreed

  4. btw , and with all due respect to him, i don’t think Daniel Criag suits a lead role. i thought he was well casted in Munich. But in all his other major films, even Casino Royale, ..something is missing in him to carry a movie.just my thoughts.What is your opinion?

    • I liked Daniel Craig in Casino Royale quite a bit. But I think I know what you mean. He certainly lacked charisma in this film. Have you seen Layer Cake? He was pretty good in that as well. Also, it’s a supporting part, but he gave an interesting performance as one of the convicted murderers that Truman Capote interviews in the film Infamous.

      • i think it might be a lack of the good guy, lead actor,charisma ….but ok. Layer Cake and Infamous. will look into those films. thank you for the recommendation…. just now, i was contemplating on a suitable action role for Daniel Craig. and it occured to me. maybe a silent assasin. like one of those in the Bourne movies…i’m imagining him with a scar running down his eye to appear frightening. ..something along those lines maybe..

  5. This could of been a great movie. The idea was very different, so I was hopeful. The movie, unfortunately, was awful. I wish it was smarter. So sad.

  6. Excellent review, Mark. I agree with everything you said and, I have to say, I told you so! LOL. Cowboys & Aliens was the biggest disappointment for me this year.

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