Cowboys & Aliens may seem like a match made in genre-mash heaven, but its lasting impression is less notable than its concept.
That said, the film isn’t without redeeming qualities. It has a couple good performances, tight editing, steady direction and its production
values are unquestionable.
The film opens well, with a solitary Daniel Craig waking up in the desert with no memories, a mysterious wound and a piece of iron clasped
to his wrist. In another Jason Bourne turn, he realizes that he is one hell of a badass. He promptly finds trouble with the bratty son of
Harrison Ford, played by the perfectly cast Paul Dano.
But before Ford can intervene, the film somewhat abruptly introduces the second half of its title. Half the town is abducted via aerial tow
cables and Craig’s newly activated bracelet appears to be the only thing capable of bringing down the alien crafts.
They form a posse (complete with every Western stereotype you could hope for) and the film never looks back.
There really isn’t anything terribly objectionable in Cowboys & Aliens, it just never works as well as it should. There are some good laughs,
but there are also a few too many times the film sets up for a punch line that is nonexistent. There are some big, loud, visually impressive
set pieces, but none that really thrill. Ditto the plot and its occasional twist and turn.
The film’s greatest assets are really the performances of Daniel Craig and Harrison Ford. Craig as stoic badass Jake Lonergan and Ford as
the gruff Colonel Dolarhyde take full advantage of what the screenplay gives them, and they work hard to sell its inadequacies.
Let’s face it, no one beats up (or takes a beating) like Craig and Ford can bark out his lines with the best of them. In Cowboys & Aliens’ best
moments, one of the two is usually happening.
The script fails to make much use of its supporting cast, relegating most of them to mere western caricatures. But none is more mishandled
than Olivia Wilde’s Ella, who never endears herself to the audience. This turns out to be a great hindrance to the latter half of this film.
The greatest shortcoming of the screenplay is that it doesn’t do a better job of developing its characters. We really don’t feel a heck of a
lot for these people.
Ford’s Dolarhyde gets a couple of nice sentimental moments (One with a boy seeking his abducted Grandpa and another with his son’s
bodyguard). The film needed a couple more moments like this to make these characters feel more like people and less like caricatures.
Director Jon Favreau of Iron Man fame has never been noted as much of a visualist, but his steady camera work is much appreciated during
the action sequences and he takes great advantage of the first-rate production values.
The art direction, cinematography, visual effects and thunderous (but superbly mixed) sound design ensure that Cowboys & Aliens feels as
spectacular as it should.
Cowboys & Aliens is an unquestionably entertaining film and it even has some strong moments to boot. But despite its novel concept; it
just feels a bit too conventional in its execution. The screenplay is not as witty or developed as it needs to be and, hard as they try, no
amount of star power or impressive design can overcome this fatal flaw.
* * ½
(out of four)
Directed by: Jon Favreau
Written by: Roberto Orci & Alex Kurtzman & Damon
Lindelof and Mark Fergus & Hawk Ostby
Starring: Daniel Craig, Harrison Ford, Olivia Wilde,
Sam Rockwell, Adam Beach, Paul Dano, Noah Ringer
Cinematography by: Matthew Libatique
Music by: Harry Gregson-Williams
Released: July 29, 2011; 118 Minutes