Review by J.T. Johnson
DIRECTOR: Jon Favreau
CINEMATOGRAPHY: Matthew Libatique
WRITERS: Roberto Orci, Alex Kurtzman, Damon Lindelof, Mark Fergus, Hawk Ostby
MUSIC: Harry Gregson-Williams
“Cowboys & Aliens” starts off as a rather decent Western before slowly breaking down into another generic alien film. Sure, one going in to this film should be ready to see exactly what the title suggests. It’s not the alien aspect that is necessarily bad, just the rather generic purpose they have for being here and common clichés that don’t really stand above anything seen before.
As mentioned above, the film starts off interesting enough. Jake Lonergan (Daniel Craig) wakes up in the middle of the desert with no memory of who he is or where he’s been. He also has a strange metal bracelet on his left wrist. Not five minutes into the movie, Jake realizes like Jason Bourne before him that he’s not bad with a gun or in a fight.
Jake then finds himself in the town of Absolution where he learns that he’s wanted for murder and other misdeeds. After being arrested, he also becomes the target of Woodrow Dolarhyde (Harrison Ford), a man Jake supposedly stole money from some time back. A mysterious woman named Ella Swenson (Olivia Wilde) also seems to have an interest in Absolution’s new resident and appears to know about his memory. Needless to say, Jake is suddenly a very popular guy.
But before anyone can get any answers, alien ships come out of nowhere and begin to wreak havoc on the small town and people are abducted left and right. Jake’s bracelet comes to life and after pointing it at one of the ships, he becomes the only person with the weapon that’s worth a damn. A posse is formed and a quest to recover those who have been taken begins.
This is also where the film begins to fall apart. The action in the film is not all that interesting. Ships attack, Jake uses his bracelet and they go away. That pretty much describes every action scene before the film’s climactic end sequence.
With no original action, the sequences become nothing more than interruptions after some interesting character development takes place. When Jake slowly begins to remember who he is, the aliens inevitably attack. The aliens themselves are also not all that appealing and in some ways, they look similar to aliens audiences have seen in “Cloverfield” and “Super 8”.
Even the climactic battle in the movie’s third act has problems. Throughout the whole film, it is known that the six shooters and rifles are no match for the aliens. Suddenly, one shot and a handful of arrows can kill them with no explanation.
Now, the film is not all bad. The Western motif is pulled off well enough by director Jon Favreau and the cast is rather engaging. Craig is especially good as Jake and the audience does feel for this character. The same can be said about Ford as Dolarhyde. At first, the character is a disgruntled old soldier, but soon it becomes apparent that this is a shield hiding deeper pain and remorse.
Wilde has already proven herself to be a talented actress on “House”. Her talent is evident in this film as well. Unfortunately, the audience never gets to learn her character’s full story in any great detail and this is another grave misstep for the film. Wilde definitely got shortchanged.
The film is by far not the worst film of the year. It is disappointing though that not enough detail was given to the alien story beyond the usual sci-fi jargon. The film would have been actually better had they just stuck with the cowboys and gotten rid of the aliens all together.