Cowboys & Aliens, 2011.
Directed by Jon Favreau.
Starring Daniel Craig, Harrison Ford, Olivia Wilde, Sam Rockwell, Paul Dano, Clancy Brown and Keith Carradine.
When a spaceship arrives in the Wild West region of Arizona, only a posse of cowboys stand in the way an alien invasion.
It’s 1873 - a lone cowboy (Daniel Craig) awakens in the desert with a mysterious object on his arm. On his journey to discover how he came to that moment; he and a cattle owner Dolarhyde (Harrison Ford) uncover that an alien force has arrived on earth and has begun capturing the Wild West’s people. A posse of cowboys and natives are all that stand in their way.
I think that the greatest enemy that this film has is the expectations that the marketing set out for it. In every single piece of marketing that I’ve seen for this film is ‘cowboys’ and ‘ALIENS’. Immediately there’s some kind of expectation that it’s going to be an all out ‘battle royale’ of aliens versus the human populace of the old west – that is not the case. There are a fascinating group of interviews that were made by Jon Favreau as part of the publicity for this film. The first is a group interview with Hollywood icons Steven Spielberg, Ron Howard and Brian Grazer and the second is with the great Harrison (Han Solo, Indiana Jones, Rick Deckard) Ford. [I’ll be posting the interviews for anyone interested here]. One of the things that I gleaned from the four-way interview is that the previous permutations of the Cowboys and Aliens script had featured a much more comedic element and that originally it had been much more ‘unreal’. What actually got Favreau involved was anchoring the film into the western reality to emotionally engage the audience with the characters and then to wow them with something incredible that expands and amplifies their expectations of a ‘Cowboy’ movie. In short it’s ‘COWBOYS’ and ‘aliens’.
So that said – I went in with my expectations in a better place than others who may have been expecting Independence Day in the old west; and I’m a massive fan of the western genre.
This is a rollicking western, filled with classical western tropes. I was walking out of the session that I saw and overheard another reviewer say “Oh did you see those guns; they never reloaded… soooooo unrealistic.” Firstly, it’s Cowboys and Aliens and secondly my That Movie Show partner in crime said exactly what I was thinking; “Have they ever seen a western?” Favreau really knows his way around a camera at this point. His visuals feel almost like someone emulating Spielberg's style but in a western landscape. Favreau also is a good actor’s director, because of his own acting experience; and extracts good performances from all involved. He does have quite a cache of performers in this one including James Bond and Han Solo.
Daniel Craig looks good as the weathered, sun burnt cowboy character Lonergan. He’s got a great intense presence that suits the laconic mysterious, amnesia victim. Harrison Ford’s Dolarhyde is larger than life and mixes equal measures of Gene Hackman in Unforgiven and John ‘The Duke’ Wayne. I’m sure like most film lovers of my generation, we cut Ford a lot of slack in his poorer films / performances because at least 3 of his characters are revelatory icons that tower like titans in the landscape of film history. But that said, I really enjoyed his performance – I found it to be homage to Wayne in The Searchers and it’s the best thing I’ve seen him in, in some time.
Wilde, Rockwell and Dano all give solid performances fulfilling their part for the story – and in an effort to not be too **spoiler** heavy, I’ll just say that the alien antagonists have a really cool and familiar reason to be in the old west and some awesome tangible interesting tech’ to boot.
To some up, I really like Cowboys and Aliens. I think that if you enjoyed Cowboy movies, and particularly Cowboys & Indians movies – you’ll enjoy it a lot. If you don’t like how many times people reload in westerns kill yourse… I mean this wasn’t made for you.
Blake Howard is a writer/site director/podcaster at the castleco-op.com.
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