Cowboys & Aliens (2011) – Review

2 1/2 Stars

Cowboys & Aliens comes complete with all the elements needed to make a successful western and science fiction film; yet it’s unable to accomplish either. It arrives on the screen in a curiously low-key manner and just sits there. Professionally moving about its various plot points, but generating little interest and not before long, viewers discover this is going to be a paced derivative cowboy movie and a subpar alien invasion story. It is, dare I say, a traditional western in the style of silver screen classics of the genre. That is until those pesky aliens show up and turn the town and the film upside down. There was however an enormous amount of striking imagery throughout. Admittedly there is an eerie quality to shots of futuristic flying vessels hovering over a cattle town in the 1800’s. Daniel Craig inflicts an American accent very well, he struts through the role with a certain bravado and I think he is surprisingly well cast. It’s the story that fails them and director Favreau.

After becoming a viable blockbuster director due to Iron Man‘s overwhelming worldwide popularity, Favreau chose to use his newfound clout to get this project made. As a pitch this may have sounded enticing, when fleshed on the screen the entire story takes on a dullness that it isn’t capable of shaking until the final twenty minutes. The story is rife with the familiar characters from these types of films, a wimpy barkeep, a Priest, men who have no faith, Indians, a damsel in distress and of course, those pesky aliens. Worse yet it takes nearly an hour to finally get a worthwhile showdown with the aliens. The space beings are initially glimpsed in flashes and half glances that quickly becomes frustrating. There is something inherently eerie about seeing unsophisticated folk witnessing the awe inspiring contact from an alien race. Director Jon Favreau handles this sequence as if he’s been studying the Spielberg cinematic playbook.

At least the casting is spot on. I really liked Craig’s take on a man with no name character and even Harrison Ford appears a bit more lively and mobile than he did in the labored Indiana Jones sequel. Clancy Brown plays the town’s preacher and part of the search party led by Col. Dollarhide (Ford) to track down the townsfolk kidnapped by the deadly space beings. Paul Danko is once again cast as a weasel and watching his character get continual comeuppance is one of the film’s early running pleasures.

For all the things lacking in Cowboys & Aliens, it does have one thing going for it; a damn catchy title. It’s not often I say this, but I wish the movie had lived up to the name.

Director: Jon Favreau
Stars: Daniel Craig, Harrison Ford, Olivia Wilde

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