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Cowboys and Aliens Movie Review - Was It Any Good??

Updated on January 30, 2015

Cowboys and Aliens Movie Review - Clash of The Genres!!

My initial reaction (like most people, I imagine) upon hearing about a movie with a campy title like "Cowboys & Aliens," was "wow, that sounds pretty effing cheesy!!" However, once I learned that the film was based on a successful graphic novel of the same name, and heard that it would be directed by Jon Favreau, who is quickly becoming one of my favorite directors, and would star two of my favorite actors, Harrison Ford and Daniel Craig (not to mention the beautiful and talented Olivia Wilde), my initial dismissive attitude changed to "wow, that sounds like it could be pretty damn cool!!"

Luckily, my second instinct turned out to be correct, as "Cowboys & Aliens" successfully balances the right mix of Western movie grit and Sci-Fi/Alien action and suspense. It's not very often that a movie comes out that attempts to mix vastly different film genres, like Western movies and Sci-Fi, the way "Cowboys & Aliens" does, but when done right (like the vampire/heist film mix in Quentin Tarantino's "From Dusk Till Dawn") the result can be a whole lot of fun, which is the category this film falls in. So for those of you who became judgmental of this movie immediately after hearing the title, and are wondering "could it be any good?," the answer is "Yes!!"

Cowboys and Aliens Movie Review - Movie Info

Credits

Cast:

Daniel Craig as Jake Lonergan

Harrison Ford as Col. Woodrow Dolarhyde

Olivia Wilde as Ella Swenson

Sam Rockwell as Doc

Clancy Brown as Meacham

Keith Carradine as Sheriff John Taggart

Noah Ringer as Emmett Taggart

Ana de la Reguera as Maria

Abigail Spencer as Alice

Walton Goggins as Hunt

Written By: Damon Lindelof, Alex Kurtzman, Roberto Orci, Mark Fergus, Hawk Ostby

Directed By: Jon Favreau

Studio: Universal Pictures

Rating: PG-13

Run Time: 118 minutes

Cowboys & Aliens - Official Trailer

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Cowboys & Aliens - Movie Review

The Story

* * SPOILER WARNING * *

The film, which takes place in 1873 Arizona, opens with Jake Lonergan (Daniel Craig), who's name we learn later, waking up in the middle of the desert, with seemingly no memory of who he is, and a strange metal bracelet around his wrist. After quickly taking out (with James Bond like efficiency) three strangers, who think he may be an escaped convict and make the mistake of trying to take him into custody, Lonergan rides into the town of Absolution. After witnessing Percy Dolarhyde shooting up the town and threatening the townsfolk, Lonergan quickly subdues him. Percy is then taken into custody by Sheriff John Taggart (Keith Carradine).

Unfortunately, the Sheriff recognizes Lonergan on a "wanted" poster, and subsequently attempts to arrest him. After a brief struggle with the Sheriff and his deputies, during which Lonergan almost escapes, he is knocked unconscious by a mysterious woman named Ella Swenson (Olivia Wilde), who had previously approached him in the town's saloon. Later that night, Percy's father Colonel Woodrow Dolarhyde (Harrison Ford), a rich and powerful cattleman, arrives in town with his men, demanding that the Sheriff turn both his son and Lonergan over to him. He claims that Lonergan stole his gold.

However, during the standoff between Dolarhyde and his men and the Sheriff and his deputies, alien ships begin attacking the town. During the attack several townsfolk are abducted by the alien ships, including the Sheriff, Dolarhyde's son Percy, and the wife of the local saloon owner named Doc (Sam Rockwell). Lonergan's bracelet mysteriously activates during the raid, and he is able to use it to shoot down one of the ships, which seemingly ends the attack.

The next morning Dolarhyde, Ella, Doc, and some other townsfolk form a posse to track an alien that ejected from the damaged alien ship, in the hopes of finding the people that were abducted. Meanwhile, Lonergan rides out to a cabin with a hole ripped in the ceiling, where in a flashback, Lonergan recalls bringing the stolen gold back to his wife, just before they were both abducted by the aliens. Lonergan then leaves the cabin and joins up with the posse to track the alien. That night, after making camp, the alien they are tracking attacks and kills one of the posse members, causing many of the posse to desert and flee during the night.

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The Story (continued)

The next day, the remaining posse members are attacked and taken prisoner by Lonergan’s former gang, who are angry with Lonergan for stealing the loot from their last robbery. Using his bracelet weapon, Lonergan is able to take out the gang’s new leader, allowing the posse to get away. While being pursued by Lonergan’s former gang, the posse and the gang are both attacked by the alien ships, one of which manages to grab Ella. However, Lonergan is able to board the ship holding Ella, and disable it with his bracelet, causing it to crash in a river. Lonergan is able to kill the alien pilot, who survived the crash, but not before it mortally wounds Ella.

After catching up with the posse (while carrying Ella’s body), Lonergan and the posse are captured by a tribe of Apaches, who blame them for the alien attacks. After the Apaches put Ella’s body in a fire, she reawakens completely healed, revealing to everyone that she is actually an alien sent to Earth to help prevent the invaders from destroying the Earth the way they destroyed her homeworld. She explains that the aliens are there mining for gold, which is also a rare and precious metal to them, and that they are abducting humans to use as test subjects in their experiments.

After drinking an Indian concoction, Lonergan has a flashback and remembers seeing his wife killed by the aliens during their experiments, and that he escaped after accidentally stealing the bracelet and wounding his captor. With Lonergan’s knowledge of the location of the aliens, and led by Dolarhyde, the posse and the Apaches prepare to launch an attack. However, knowing the long odds against them prevailing against the aliens, Lonergan returns to his old gang and manages to convince them to help with the attack.

In a climactic battle, the posse uses the gang’s dynamite to breach the ship and lure the aliens outside into a ground attack, where they do not have as much of an advantage. Meanwhile, Lonergan and Ella manage to board the ship and free the captive townsfolk. After splitting up, Lonergan is taken captive by the same alien that he wounded in his previous escape, but is rescued by Dolarhyde. Taking numerous losses in the ground attack, the remaining aliens attempt to escape in their mother ship, but Ella sacrifices herself to detonate the ship using Lonergan’s wrist gauntlet, before it can leave orbit.

The movie concludes with most of the townsfolk reunited and celebrating in the town saloon, with the expectation that the newly discovered gold will bring prosperity and expansion for the town. Lonergan, who is still a wanted man, decides to leave town, despite the Sheriff and Dolarhyde both offering to report that he had been killed.

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Cowboys & Aliens Review - the Good

The direction by Jon Favreau was impressive, as he did a great job staying true to both the Western and Sci-Fi genres. Favreau succeeds by taking a somewhat silly premise and treating it seriously, and not letting the movie devolve into a campy mess. While the movie starts out as a pure Western, with the lone gunslinger wandering into a small town being run by a powerful above-the-law cattleman, even after the aliens show up and the movie takes a sci-fi turn, Favreau still manages to keep the Western tone alive throughout the rest of the film.

My understanding is that, unlike almost every other movie coming out these days, “Cowboys & Aliens” will not be shown in 3D because Favreau did not think that a Western movie should be shot digitally (which is required for 3D technology), and insisted on shooting it on actual film. I commend Favreau for sticking to his guns and not following the 3D pushing crowd, as his decision helped give the movie a more old Western authentic feel.

I also really liked how Favreau slowly built up to the big reveal of what the aliens actually looked like, which reminded me a bit of the classic “Alien” movie. Also, the decision to have the townsfolk initially believe that the aliens were demons was smart and realistic considering the era of the film.

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The Good (Continued)

As for the acting, the respective performances of Daniel Craig and Harrison Ford were excellent, and their onscreen chemistry was even better. Both actors played off each other extremely well. Craig does a great job playing the confused amnesiac gunfighter, Lonergan, who is ruthless and deadly, but also caring and honorable. He definitely radiates the requisite "I'm a badass, don't f**k with me aura."

Ford seemed to be having fun with a role for the first time in a long time, as he perfectly plays the callous and unforgiving Colonel Dolarhyde. I especially liked how Ford's character, who, initially seems to be the stereotypical Western movie bad-guy, actually develops throughout the film into a sympathetic character, and by the end, is someone the audience actually cares about. Ford's ability to play the old grizzled gunfighter made me wonder why he hasn't done any Westerns for over 30 years, since "The Frisco Kid."

Olivia Wilde also does an outstanding job of playing the mysterious Ella Swenson. Wilde plays the role as more than just eye-candy, and manages to hold her own on screen with both Craig and Ford. Clancy Brown, who usually plays a bad guy, has a nice turn as a wise preacher named Meacham. Also, Walton Goggins (who is great in the television show "Justified") and Sam Rockwell's characters both manage to bring some humorous moments to the film.

As far as action and effects, the movie is pretty well paced with plenty of slugfests, chases, and shootouts, not to mention a climactic showdown where the townsfolk, Apache tribe, and bandits team up against an alien hoard. There are also some first-rate suspenseful moments, with aliens popping up that almost made my wife jump out of her seat. Also, while there is plenty of CGI in the film, it is not overdone, and I especially liked the fact that the aliens appeared to be a mix of CGI and physical animatronics.

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Cowboys & Aliens Review - the Bad

While the movie starts out pretty strong, the later portion reveals some plot holes that are never adequately explained. After the true nature of Olivia Wilde's character Ella is revealed, there is no mention as to how she got to Earth, or how long she had been there, or how she knew the invading aliens would be going there.

Further, although it is vaguely explained that the aliens consider gold a precious metal and abduct humans to be used for experiments, it is never really explained as to what end, or why they actually need the gold. Is it a source of fuel or energy, or just something shiny to look at, who knows? Lonergan's initial escape, which is flashed back to later in the film, also seemed pretty far fetched, with no explanation as to why he came out of his trance (unlike the other humans), or why the wrist gauntlet was located conveniently near his arm (or why a wrist weapon built for large aliens would even fit on his much smaller wrist).

I also did not really understand Wilde's character's certainty that destroying the ship full of aliens would somehow prevent any more of their race from coming to Earth, which just seemed covenient. If anything, I would think that destroying their ship would precipitate a search party to come looking for them, especially if they were able to send any communications that they had discovered gold on Earth. Although I guess that oversight may have been intentional to leave the possibility of a sequel open. Also, although I haven't read the graphic novel, I understand that, aside from the title, the movie shares very little in common, which will no doubt anger many of the novel's die hard fans.

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Conclusion

All in all, "Cowboys & Aliens" successfully combines the elements of a gritty Western with an action-packed alien invasion movie, while showing respect for both genres, and coming up with something completely original. While no one will mistake this film for "Unforgiven" or "Close Encounters of the Third Kind," by taking the story seriously, Favreau avoids even a hint of campiness, which one might expect from the title, and delivers a fun action adventure movie that fans of both genres should enjoy. Also, the casting and performances of Daniel Craig and Harrison Ford are particularly good, and their onscreen chemistry makes me hope that these two great actors work together again in the future.

3.5 stars out of 5

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Let Me Know What You Thought of "Cowboys & Aliens" And/Or My Review...

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    • raelcalu profile image

      raelcalu 5 years ago

      Great review...

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      anonymous 6 years ago

      Very nicely done review. Enjoyed your lens!