Monday, August 1, 2011

"Cowboys & Aliens"

Cowboys & Aliens - Directed by Jon Favreau, written by Roberto Orci, Alex Kurtzman, Damon Lindelof, Mark Fergus, and Hawk Ostby, starring Daniel Craig, Harrison Ford, and Olivia Wilde - Rated PG-13

Feels good to give a movie featuring the Kurgan a...well, Kurgan.

Cowboys…and aliens. These are two things that normally wouldn’t collide in the film world. The absurdity of the concept is exactly what makes Cowboys & Aliens work so well. The film may have a title that evokes a bit of laughter, but it is not a goofy movie. There are a few script problems but the film remains consistently entertaining. Plus, it’s nice to see a western on the big screen again, even if aliens have to show up as well.

Cowboys & Aliens plays like a regular western. A mysterious man (Daniel Craig) wakes up in the middle of the desert with no memory, a wound, and a strange metal bracelet strapped to his arm. He ventures into town and trouble seems to follow him. It turns out that he’s a wanted man who stole from a brutal cattle rancher (Harrison Ford). Ford and Craig are about to square off when the aliens attack.

There is a bit more to the story, of course, but all you really need to know is that cowboys fight aliens in this movie. As far as the action and the visuals go, Cowboys & Aliens works quite well. There are plenty of shootouts and typical Wild West action and the addition of aliens allows for some explosions and laser fire. The creature design is interesting and the aliens make for imposing villains. They are computer generated, though, and sometimes they look a little cartoonish. But there are also scenes in which they look photo realistic, so it’s a mixed bag.

Cowboys & Aliens truly succeeds when the ridiculousness of the entire premise is acknowledged. It’s amusing when you think about it. An alien invasion would be a shocking event in the present day, but imagine what it would be like to see aircraft suddenly show up if you were in the Old West? Characters expressing exasperation about the new technology is funny.

Part of what adds to the humor of the film is Harrison Ford’s performance. His reaction when he finds out what the aliens want is hilarious and his interactions with the rest of the cast are humorous. The problem with Ford’s comedic moments is that the character is set up as this brutal man but ends up being one of the more likable characters. And in a strange bit of screenwriting, Ford ends up being the father figure for almost any male character who talks to him. They should have just excised this whole setup of him as a bad man because everything he does after that claim is made is reasonable and sometimes downright nice.

Daniel Craig ends up being the more stone hearted of the two leads. He gives a stoic performance and he makes for a commanding presence in the film. Olivia Wilde makes the film better just by showing up with her disarming beauty. Adam Beach creates one of the film’s only emotionally powerful scenes as one of Ford’s quasi-sons. Sam Rockwell doesn’t have much to do but is still an enjoyable presence. Paul Dano continues to perfect his ability to play absolutely hateable characters. And Clancy Brown does a fine job as the town’s preacher.

Cowboys & Aliens is one of the most enjoyable films of the year, but it doesn’t hold up well under the microscope. Ford’s character problems and occasional spotty CG aside, the film has other problems that some viewers may take issue with. The action is fine and all, but it doesn’t seem all that polished. A lot of the final action sequence is discussed by the characters and they devise a plan but when the action occurs it all just seems to be chaos. Director Jon Favreau just didn’t seem capable of shooting a battle in a clear fashion. Instead the action consists of explosions and multiple last-second saves. It’s not terrible; it’s just not what the film had set up in the previous scenes.

Looking at the action in that way is kind of nitpicking, though. Cowboys & Aliens has enough going for it that a few minor missteps are totally acceptable. The good far outweighs the bad with this film. The cast is great and the film is a lot of fun without becoming cheesy. You can watch the film and try to find something wrong with it or you can say, “Hey, a western with aliens. Awesome!” I suggest going with the latter approach.

Random Thoughts (SPOILERS)

It's great to see Harrison Ford back in action. He's had a pretty rough run lately, but he's in his proper element in this one. And he's even giving rational interviews and everything now. This might be a turning point.

Of course Olivia Wilde is an alien, that explains her hotness.

The Kurgan as a man of God? Does that rub anyone else the wrong way?

Favorite lines: "They want gold? What are they going to do? Buy something?”

Finally, what is the deal with the upside-down boat? I assume it has something to do with those alien folk, but a little more explanation would have been nice. I do like the image of it, though.

1 comment:

  1. This is one of brilliant movie that I ever seen. The movie has a great story. Great acting..I enjoyed it till the last and would love to watch it again and again..