Tuesday, 16 August 2011

Continuing this summer's trend of unimaginatively obvious titles, there was good reason for my expectations for Cowboys and Aliens to be low, especially considering the forgettable, characterless action of director Jon Favreau's Iron Man films. Yet, as my screening approached, I did find myself optimistic - the merging of the two genres combined with the promising cast does give Favreau's science-fiction Western a fun appeal.

Jake Lonergan, a former outlaw and a gruff loner (the character names are almost as subtle as the film title), strolls into the dusty town of Absolution in true Western style. Not long after, alien spaceships attack the town and abduct residents, in true science fiction style, leading Jake to join the remaining townspeople in a quest to save their friends and, in true American style, shoot lots of things.

Cowboys and Aliens is at its best at the beginning, when Jake is becoming acquainted with the town of Absolution and its inhabitants, before dipping in excitement in the middle, as the tracking of the aliens perhaps goes on a bit too long, but peaks again at the exciting, if highly predictable, final battle sequences. The story can, as one would expect, be boiled down simply to "cowboys versus aliens, bang bang, yee-haw," but does, in fact, have quite a bit more depth. Many of the residents of Absolution are given their own memorable traits and sub-plots and everything is held together by a wonderful cast. While Daniel Craig pulls off the "silent, manly figure with a criminal past" role in a manner to rival John Wayne, Harrison Ford does his thing as Colonel Dolarhyde, an ex-military man who takes charge of the ragtag band of alien hunters. I like Harrison Ford when he's given the right role, and while this is far from his best, he certainly makes the character his own and does his Harrison Ford thing as only Harrison Ford can. Meanwhile, Olivia Wilde excels as a powerful and mysterious woman who joins the group, while the ever-reliable Sam Rockwell adds a bit of comic relief as a barkeeper inexperienced in battle yet determined to save his wife. Paul Dano (the young chap whose milkshake is drunk in There Will Be Blood) is also notable as Dolarhyde's cocky son, who arrogantly terrorises the townspeople but is repeatedly taken on and casually pwned (as the kids would say) by Lonergan, to hilarious effect.

All of these characters' characteristics and corresponding sub-plots are weaved together well, as are the two genres. Science fiction and Western conventions are mixed in a unique and effective manner (much more effective than that other sci-fi Western, Wild Wild West, which was not a good film, to put it lightly) - many, if not all, of the tropes expected from either of these genres are present. Consequently, Cowboys and Aliens does ramp up the clich├ęs in places, but this is just what is needed in such a film, and, in fact, I think it could have been taken further. I'd have liked more of an influence from classic Westerns in the cinematography for example - it is filmed in a manner quite average for a summer blockbuster movie and, at times, I wished it were more expressive - some Sergio Leone-style sweeping vistas and extreme close-ups during showdowns could have been added to great effect.

With a talented cast and its plots and genres weaved together competently, Cowboys and Aliens is certainly worth watching, though by sticking to conventional Hollywood techniques and having too predictable a plot, is prevented from approaching its true potential.

(Video review coming soon)


  1. So as much as it might be an insult to do so, could this be accurately be summed up as, 'it's fun, and worth watching, but not particularly interesting in the sense of deep.'?

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  3. @Anonymous Yes, that sums it up. Worth watching once, as many elements do work to make it entertaining enough, but not to be rewatched.