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Cowboys & Aliens – A solid summer event

Cowboys & Aliens - Theater Review
Release Date: 07/29/2011 - MPAA Rating: PG-13
Clacker Rating: 4 Clacks

Can 'Cowboys & Aliens' live up to the hype based on its source material, amazing cast, powerful director, and all around geek resonance? In a word (or three): Sure, why not?

When you can look at the cast of a film, and be able to describe it with comments like “It’s a James Bond/Han Solo team-up,” the stakes are going to be raised, whether you want them to be nor not. And unlike the last “big collaboration” I watched this summer, I was pleasantly surprised by Cowboys & Aliens. I say surprised, because frankly, westerns are not my thing. Despite my little bias, I think Jon Favreau was able to craft a story for fans of all genres.

Daniel Craig plays Jake Lonergan, a man who has lost all memories of his past, except a picture of a woman, when he wakes up in the middle of nowhere … with what is obviously an alien bracelet on. Obviously, of course to the audience, who walked into a movie called Cowboys & Aliens, but less so to the characters, who, in a post-Civil War time period, probably wouldn’t have yet conceptualized what an alien bracelet would look like. One of the first things that Lonergan figures out about himself is that he’s kind of a badass, as he walks into the middle of a town being controlled by Harrison Ford’s Woodrow Dolarhyde (a name in competition for the most oddly spelt of all time). By the time the aliens show up, we’ve also met Olivia Wilde’s mysterious Ella Swenson, as well. Swenson might be a love interest, but seemingly has her own motivations for wanting Jake to help track down the town’s people, abducted by the aliens.

While that might seem like a long way around to setting up the plot of the movie, there’s really not that much more to it. There are some small twists and turns (the larger of which, I have to admit I was ashamed I hadn’t seen coming), and the slow reveal of Lonergan’s backstory, but that’s kind of it. This was really the only thing I didn’t like about Cowboys & Aliens, and if “the plot was rather uncomplicated” is the only criticism I have, then the film probably deserves more credit than I was originally willing to give it.

One of the things that really stood out, unsurprisingly, was Ford’s performance. I’m sure that, in the source material, Dolarhyde had the same character arc that we saw on screen, but there was something very unique about the performance. The crusty guy with the marshmallow inside is a archetype that we’ve seen over and over again, usually reluctantly opening up by the end of the film. Ford played the character with a subtle yearning to be the man he was before he was betrayed in the war, and via the Sherriff’s son, and Adam Beach’s Nat Colorado, he’s sated by the time the quest to save his son, one of the abductees, is complete.

I’d be remiss if I didn’t highlight Beach’s performance as well. It was the perfect example of taking a small role and making it a larger part of the story. Ford’s arc wouldn’t have been complete, or as believable, if not for the loyalty that Colorado showed Dolarhyde. Considering how much of a bastard Dolarhyde comes across as early on, playing that loyalty while maintaining a beautiful humanity could not have been a task, and Beach pulls it off seamlessly.

Director Jon Favreau proves again that he has an incredible grasp for the composition of action sequences. I’m sure that the graphic novels were a great storyboard to start from (and there were several shots that were likely wonderful recreations from the source), but transitioning those ideas and still images to the big screen isn’t always the easiest of tasks, as David Yates could attest to. His not being involved with the Iron Man franchise going forward is a disappointment for me, but I am looking forward to whatever Favreau decides to tackle next.

I almost feel like I’ve left Wilde’s involvement out, as I come to a close, and trust me that was not an intentional slight. Wilde is good, and her arc is interesting enough, but you never really could figure out how you were supposed to feel about her and Jake while he was carrying the picture of the woman from his past on the inside of his hat.

Cowboys & Aliens is a good film, perhaps a very good film. It isn’t one, though, that I’ll find myself watching again and again. I’m not sure if it is the genre, or the way the story is designed, but there’s nothing there to draw me back in. Once was enough, but it was pretty to watch that one time.


Photo Credit: Universal Pictures

One Response to “Cowboys & Aliens – A solid summer event”

August 6, 2011 at 3:21 PM

I was really surprised at Beech’s arc, and it was a pleasant surprise.

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