Cowboys and Aliens Review: The Gold Rush Goes Intergalactic

The Basics

Deep in the Arizona desert, 1873, loner Jake Lonergan awakens with no memory of who he is or where he’s been.  With no clues to help him, save for a strange metal shackle on his left arm, he makes his way to the small town of Absolution where he learns that he is a notoriously dangerous outlaw wanted by many people including tyrannical cattle baron Colonel Dolarhyde who unquestioningly rules Absolution.  But all desire for vengeance must be put aside as the town is attacked by a slew of alien spacecraft that destroy at will and abduct townspeople without mercy.  When Lonergan discovers that his bracer is the key to the alien’s defeat, he must join forces with Dolarhyde to destroy the intergalactic menace and save the people they love.

Cast: Daniel Craig, Olivia Wilde, Harrison Ford, Sam Rockwell, Paul Dano, Clancy Brown, Keith Carradine

Written By: Damon Lindelof, Alex Kurtzman, Roberto Orci

Directed By: Jon Favreau

Original Release Date: July 29th, 2011

The Delivery

For anyone who has had the pleasure of reading the graphic novel from 2006, they will be overjoyed to know that under the studious and respectful direction of Favreau, Cowboys and Aliens is an awesome rock’em-sock’em action flick that will surely entertain both sci-fi and western diehards alike.

It must be kept in mind that Cowboys and Aliens is exactly what is sounds like and anyone expecting anything else will be disappointed.  This is a comic book movie and nothing more.  That said, nearly everything within this adaptation is exceptional.

Daniel Craig turns in a fantastic performance as the nuanced amnesiac outlaw Jake Lonergan, a man as terrifically badass as the bracer on his arm is alien.  Mainstream critics will certainly spout that Craig spends a great deal of time eschewing real depth for chewing his scenes, but they certainly will not be among the informed crowd.

With his penetrating blue eyes, chiseled features and stone-cold demeanor, Lonergan is the personification of the mythical western outlaw, cool, calculating, and as awe-inspiring in his intelligence as he is in his violence.  And the first time he gets that bracer to do its thing you just want to stand up and cheer for the man.

Harrison Ford is also a great joy to watch as Colonel Dolarhyde and while he does at times tend to push some intense moments over the top, he is a master at his more subtle ones.  Crystal Skull this is not.  This is Harrison Ford in a role he truly seemed to enjoy playing just for the sake of playing it.  As an actor I can attest that it is always fun to play the bad guy and Ford really shows his chops in his more formidable moments, not just as a calloused cattle baron but a brutal and vicious veteran of the Mexican-American war.  He brings the wild west to life in all of its pain and desperation, harsh aspects of life that money could never hide.

The surrounding cast is also exceptional in filling out the varied personalities of the small town.  Sam Rockwell, Clancy Brown, Paul Dano and the legendary Keith Carradine are fantastic as Saloon owner Doc, Preacher Meacham, Percy Dolarhyde, and Sheriff John Taggart respectively.

The only weak link in the cast (and by weak I mean only about 50%) was Olivia Wilde as traveler Ella Swenson.  What the lovely actress lacks in acting she more than makes up for it in sheer look.  Ms. Wilde has a powerful physical presence with her exquisite physique, flawlessly angular features and intense blue eyes constantly demanding your attention.  This alone (and the presence of so many talented veterans) is just enough to allow the audience to forget at times that in Cowboys and Aliens, unlike TV’s House, she’s really more beauty than talent.

All of this is backdropped by the incredible cinematography and production value of the film.  Favreau remained true to the spirit of classic westerns by ditching the Hollywood digital standard and shooting entirely on film, believing that doing so would preserve the essence of the setting.  It is instantly recognizable the homages paid to the likes of Sergio Leone, John McTiernan, James Cameron, and John Ford, the film playing out like They Call Me Trinity meets Predator.

Favreau captures the wide open spaces of the west beautifully, the great expanses jaw-droppingly gorgeous, treacherous, and mysterious.  The aliens themselves, and their ships, are fantastically constructed under the guiding hand of production designer Scott Chambliss and Industrial Light and Magic.  Intimidating and brutally fearsome, these aliens are very impressive and lend great credence to the extreme technological imbalance in the film.

Also of terrific note is the soundtrack, a wonderfully fun dance of sci-fi themes and western motifs.  The aliens are scored as epically fearsome as their technology and appearance and the humans are inclined towards the classic haunting western tune, vividly dreamlike, as distantly powerful as a rolling thunderstorm breaking a flat prairie horizon.

All-in-all, Cowboys and Aliens does not try to be more than what it is, never taking itself too seriously, but never allowing the camp to supercede the story.  Every actor seems to be honestly enjoying themselves, playing roles they like simply because they like playing them.  A wild and fun romp, Cowboys and Aliens is sure to entertain anyone who takes the time to watch and will certainly earn a place in many personal collections.

The Scorecard

Acting- Strong performances from everyone, each member of cast meeting the expectations of the characters perfectly.  Though things may seem one-note at times, it can be accepted, this being an adaptation of a graphic novel.

Directing- Flawless direction on behalf of Favreau who proves again that he is the go-to director for any comic-book film adaptation.

Writing- While not as strong as Rosenberg’s original effort, what made it into the film was everything that was excellent about the story.

Sound- Fantastically scored with some brilliant effects and editing.  The western motif is captured in all its brutal and haunting glory as well as the daunting, technological feel of the alien presence.  Like many who came before it, this is how it’s done.

Visuals- As the years go by, visual technology will continue to improve and this is one more stepping stone along the way.  Impressive and immersive, not once did I think anything was out of place.  At times it was even difficult to tell the difference, even when CGI-aliens are brutally tackling real people off their horses.

Overall

The entirety of Cowboys and Aliens can be summed up solely in the title itself.  There are no illusions within this film, just a great sci-fi story in a beautifully captured western setting.  With strong acting, great visuals, epic scoring and sound direction, you’ll surely enjoy this one even after multiple viewings.

Score: 8.5 out of 10

Loose Thoughts

-I truly do not believe Daniel Craig could be more of a bone-breaking, teeth-shattering badass than he is here, but I can’t wait to see him try in the next Bond film.

-What is it that’s so damn familiar about these aliens…if you know please tell me…

-Harrison Ford is so freakin’ sweet!

-Olivia Wilde is so freakin’ hot!

-How can a man be hit that many times in the head and not have a concussion?  Maybe they were using the “softer” rifle stocks?

-You’ll never hear me say this again, it’s totally unecessary and it will never happen but…can we get a sequel?

-Jarod