Cowboys & Aliens--Robwrite's review

Entertaining Gunfight at the ET Corral

COWBOYS & ALIENS (3 STARS out of 5)

At one time, children played "Cowboys & Indians". Later, as we became more aware of our insensitivity, we had "Cowboys & outlaws". Now we have a new game for 21st century children...Cowboys & Aliens. Director John Favreau (Iron Man, Iron Man 2, Elf), has combined the classic western genre with science fiction. Sci-Fi has been one of the most lucrative genres over the past 30 years, while the western has been on life-support. (An interesting reversal of the days when the Western was extremely popular while sci-fi was the maligned, red-headed step-child.) The merging of the two genres works rather well here. It's not the first time it's been done. Films like Timerider and Back to the Future part 3 have used the old West setting for a science fiction story, with varying results. Even TV series such as The Adventures of Brisco County Jr., have played with crossing these genres. Cowboys & Aliens, which is based on a Graphic Novel by Scott Michael Rosenberg, is one of the better attempts to blend the genres.

Produced by Steven Speilberg, who already gave us an Alien-amok story this summer with Super 8, the film departs from the sympathetic aliens of Close Encounters of the Third Kind and ET, to give us the type of hostile alien invaders which were popular in films of the 1950s, like Earth vs. the Flying Saucers. These guys are more in the War of the Worlds or Independence Day mold.

The story follows gunfighter Jake Lonergan, (Daniel Craig) who wakes up in a field with amnesia, a wound on his side and a strange metal shackle on his wrist. He wanders into the town of Absolution, where he quickly runs afoul of Percy (Paul Dano), the no-good son of local big-shot Colonel Woodrow Dolarhyde. (Harrison Ford, in his best role in years.) Jake and Percy are both arrested by local sheriff Taggert (Keith Carradine), but poppa Dolarhyde--a brutal businessman and ex-soldier--arrives, determined to free his son. He also has a grudge against Jake, although Jake himself has no memory of what he did to raise Dolarhyde's ire. The confrontation is interrupted by a spaceship which whisks past overhead to lasso some of the locals and carry them off for nefarious purposes. Jake's wristband shakle turns out to be a laser and the only weapon effective against the alien ships. When Dolarhyde's bratty son is kidnapped, he reluctantly teams up with Jake to find all the kidnapped people and bring them home. Along for the ride are a Preacher (Clancy Brown) who thinks the aliens are demons; the Sherrif's young grandson Emmet (Noah Ringer); a saloon keeper oddly called "Doc" (Sam Rockwell), trying to rescue his captured wife; and an enigmatic beauty named Ella (Played by the ubiquitous Olivia Wilde) who clearly knows more than she is saying.

The mismatched posse meets not only aliens but American Indians and outlaws as well, while they hunt down the invaders. An attraction begins to form between Jake and Elle, while Dolarhyde starts to feel a fatherly affection for little Emmet. Jake's memory begins to slowly return (with the help of some Native American Spirit-Guide inducing peyote) and he finds out about his strange high-tech bracelet, as well as a few other revelations. The final siege on the alien HQ is rather long, but there is enough going on to keep the viewer interest.

Although there is a lot of action in Cowboys & Aliens, there are also a sufficient number of character-oriented moments to keep the film from being mindless 'smash-boom-bang' trash like Transformers. The talented cast doesn't get buried under the special-effects, as often happens in sci-fi/action films.

The aliens, who look like small versions of the Cloverfield monster, are a paradox. They obviously have high-technology, but when we see them, they act like savages, who show very little sign of intelligence. We're told that the reason for their invasion is gold, but we never find out why they are kidnapping humans.

The film advertises the presence of Craig and Ford, hoping to evoke images of James Bond and Indiana Jones (Much as was done with Ford and Sean Connery in Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade.) Daniel Craig is suitably intense as the strong, silent hero, struggling to remember his past while fighting for his life in the present. He takes his James Bondian 'cool-on-the-surface-but-a-volcano-waiting-to-explode' style one step further as Jake Lonergan. Harrison Ford, who's career has been in a long slump since 1997's Air Force One, finally gets a role worthy of him.

Olivia Wilde (Of House MD) is the fetching woman-with-a-secret Ella. Wilde has effectively segued her TV popularity and good looks into a thriving movie career. She's become Hollywood's latest 'It Girl', and seems to be in everything lately. She isn't a great actress but she is effective at playing the role of the mysterious beauty (such as her secretive character "13" on House) because it fits her aloof demeanor. There's something cold about her, even though she is very hot.

The film overall is a fun lark. Some of it is silly (advanced aliens lassoing their victims) and some of it isn't explained (what are the aliens doing with the humans they capture?) but all-in-all, this is good, escapist fun, with a first-rate cast. A rare mixing of genres that works effectively.


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Comments 16 comments

CarltheCritic1291 profile image

CarltheCritic1291 5 years ago

Very true, well written as always, and I agree completely. Keep up the good work. Voted Up, Useful, Awesome, and Interesting.


Robwrite profile image

Robwrite 5 years ago from Bay Ridge Brooklyn NY Author

Thanks carl. I appreciate it. That was a quick response. I only just posted this. :)

Thanks for reading;

Rob


dahoglund profile image

dahoglund 5 years ago from Wisconsin Rapids

Star Trek did a couple of shows where the crew ended up in the old west. I just saw an ad for this movie today, I hadn't heard about it otherwise.One problem with science fiction is that so much that we used to speculate about is common reality now. It is a genre that is either very good or very bad.I don't go to movies much so I'll probably see it when it gets to TV.


Robwrite profile image

Robwrite 5 years ago from Bay Ridge Brooklyn NY Author

Hi Dahoglund; The STAR TREK episode you're referencing is "The Specter of the Gun", when Kirk and Company end up at the OK Corral. STAR TREK actually illustrates the point you make about things we used to speculate about coming true. Many things "TREK" predicted did become reality. The space shuttle, computer discs, cell phones and several other things were predicted in STAR TREK.

Thanks for reading,

Rob


Alastar Packer profile image

Alastar Packer 5 years ago from North Carolina

Hey Rob thats a good comparison between the 50s and now with the sci-fi and westerns.Hmm..didn't know that about Harrison's career. Like your questioning take on the Aliens. Whats next...Aliens with dunce caps for head-gear. The script I have to admit sounds kinda interesting or maybe different is a better word. Thanks for a fine review Rob. Might check it out.


Robwrite profile image

Robwrite 5 years ago from Bay Ridge Brooklyn NY Author

Hi Alastar; The film is definitely a change from the usual fare and pretty entertaining, despite lapses in logic.

Thanks for reading,

Rob


Cogerson profile image

Cogerson 5 years ago from Virginia

Nice review Rob, it is good to see that you say it is finally another good role for Harrison Ford...his movies of late have been painful to watch. The movie also features one of my favorite supporting actors...Sam Rockwell....in comments on his part? It looks like a movie that I will like...thanks again for the review?


Robwrite profile image

Robwrite 5 years ago from Bay Ridge Brooklyn NY Author

Hi cogerson; You're right about Harrison Ford. It's been painful to watch Ford's long slump and poorly chosen films. This performance is the REAL Harrison Ford, finally.

Sam Rockwell has a supporting role as a nice guy who never wants any trouble, but who finds himself part of an alien-hunting posse, trying to save his wife. He has a few funny scenes. He's always a reliable character actor.

The film isn't doing as well as expected at the box office, and things will probably get worse next week when the highly anticipated Planet of the Apes film comes out. It's too bad that a good action film like this doesn't do well when junk like "Transformers 3" makes a zillion dollars.

Anyway, thanks for reading.

Rob


twilightnera profile image

twilightnera 5 years ago

I am just so hesitant to see this because the idea of the movie just sounds so completely, ridiculous. However, your review did convince me to at least rent it when it's on Netflix, escapism is always good now-a-days. With ticket prices and the economy I have to be picky about what I see. Great Review!


Robwrite profile image

Robwrite 5 years ago from Bay Ridge Brooklyn NY Author

Hi twilightnera; You're right, the premise is wacky, and this movie could easily have been a real mess, but it's not. It's fun, as ridiculous as it is. Even if you wait for it on DVD, I hope you enjoy it when you see it.

Rob


Hello, hello, profile image

Hello, hello, 5 years ago from London, UK

Thank you for your briliant review. It sounds great.


Robwrite profile image

Robwrite 5 years ago from Bay Ridge Brooklyn NY Author

Hi H.H.; It's not great but it is good. I think it's worth seeing.

Rob


ruffridyer 5 years ago from Dayton, ohio

I remember playing cowboys and indians with my brothers until I realized the indians were people protecting their homes and families. I use to play war games fighting the evil german's too. Then my father pointed out that my great,great grandparents came from germany.

I think this is one reason people like zombie movies, you can kill hundred of the "undead" without feeling guilty.

Harrison Ford has been in quite a slump but that happens to most actors.


Robwrite profile image

Robwrite 5 years ago from Bay Ridge Brooklyn NY Author

Hi ruffridyer; I remember playing cowboys annd indians too, and we never gave a thought to how insensitive it was. Back in my day, we were never taught the Indians point-of-view.

Zombies are still fair game, at least until the undead rights movement begins.

As for Harrison Ford, I was hoping this film would be his big come-back but that doesn't seem to be the case, because the film isn't doing as well as expected. It's too bad because Harrison Ford is almost 70 and this may have been his last chance.

Thanks for stopping by,

Rob


Cogerson profile image

Cogerson 4 years ago from Virginia

Wow it took me 8 months to finally see this movie....but I have now watched it....I can not beat the price as I got the blu-ray from my local library. I thought the movie was entertaining but not as good as it could have been. I agree with you about the aliens....too many questions that never get answered. If they needed humans to study their weaknesses....why keep 30 humans in a waiting area? Why do they need gold? If they can not see well in the sun....why go fight in alien to cowboy hand to hand combat during the day?

Too many cliches in the movie....did they leave any out? But it was fun to see Ford in an interesting role....as I thought this movie was 3 times better than Indy 4. I thought Bond and Indy made an interesting combo....so considering that it cost me nothing to watch the movie...I found I liked the movie....especially when I was able to ignore some of the glaring issues with the movie.


Robwrite profile image

Robwrite 4 years ago from Bay Ridge Brooklyn NY Author

Hi Bruce; Good to hear you liked it. I enjoyed it too. It didn't do well at the box office, sadly, but it was fun. I liked Craig and Ford together. I wish the film hadn't left so many unanswered questions, though.

Thanks for reading,

Rob

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