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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.