Our Score: 4 out of 5 stars
Let me say at the beginning that the film title is not just a clever name. “Cowboys and Aliens” is about, well, cowboys. And aliens. I’m sure the pitch for it was “John Wayne plus “Dances With Wolves” meets “Alien.” However it came to be, it’s one hell of a movie.
On a desolate trail three men stumble upon another laying on the ground. They tell him that they are looking for absolution. Are they looking for salvation or is that just one of those cool old western town names? Before we can find out they observe that the man appears to have been shot and is wearing a heavy metal shackle on his wrist. “Must have escaped from the hoosegow,” one replies. Thinking him to be an escaped convict, the trio decide to take his clothes and money. Well, at least they try to.
In the town of Absolution (question answered), Percy Dolarhyde (Paul Dano), the spoiled son of the town big shot, is drunkenly bothering some of the town folk. He encounters our desert wanderer (Craig), who has no time for alcoholic hijinx. Circumstances land both of them in the local jail. Percy has shot a deputy while the man, who claims to not know who he is, has been identified as Jake Lonergan, who is wanted for robbing a train full of gold. Percy’s daddy’s gold. Only Jake doesn’t remember anything. And what about that funny bracelet on his wrist?
As beautifully shot as an old John Ford western with the action one would expect from the director of “Iron Man,” “Cowboys and Aliens” is a perfect merger of two of the most popular genres ever. With a list of behind the scenes producers that includes Steven Spielberg and Ron Howard, “Cowboys and Aliens” is a great companion piece to this year’s earlier “Super 8,” as both films were made by directors who love the medium they’re working in and are happy to pay homage to the films that came before them.
Craig has a perfect face for a western. If this were the late 1960s he would be Lee Van Cleef (the “bad” part of “The Good, the Bad and the Ugly”). In fact, with this performance and his recurring role as James Bond, Craig may be the baddest man on the planet. To paraphrase a popular joke, Daniel Craig is so bad that Chuck Norris has his poster on his wall. As Colonel Dolarhyde, Harrison Ford is equally well cast. When we first meet him he’s a combination of Bernard’s father in “Billy Jack,” Ben Gazarra in “Road House” and Gene Hackman in “The Quick and the Dead.” Yet as the film progresses, and Percy and others are snatched up by the title aliens, he begins to realize that life isn’t just gold and power. Wilde seems to have come from another film, as if the filmmakers realized that they needed a woman on screen in case those in the intended audience brought a date. Some great actors fill the supporting roles, including Keith Carradine as the town sheriff, Clancy Brown as the local preacher, Sam Rockwell as the owner of the saloon and Adam Beach as a member of Dolarhyde’s crew. And to give the film a connection to the westerns of the past, Brendan Wayne, grandson of the Duke himself, also appears.
The special effects are well done and the title aliens are pretty darn creepy. Credit director Favreau with keeping the alien technology as “primitive” as possible. One of my biggest problems with the second “Star Wars” trilogy was that the ships and weapons were more technologically advanced then the ones in the first trilogy, even though it was earlier in the time line. As the summer begins to draw to an end, this is certainly one of the films to see before it does.
Check out our review from guest author Desiree Yates, here.