What would happen if aliens looking for gold invaded the old west? How would a bunch of cowboys handle a problem they couldn’t lasso, shoot, or drink away? How would they react to UFOs in a world before airplanes? Cowboys & Aliens takes the well-loved formula behind western movies and makes aliens the bad guys. The result could have been terrible, but instead the filmmakers created a strange but hugely entertaining movie.
Cowboys & Aliens opens on Jake Lonergan (Daniel Craig) waking up in the desert with amnesia and a strange iron cuff on his wrist. He finds his way to the nearest town, where Percy Dolarhyde (Paul Dano), son of Woodrow Dolarhyde (Harrison Ford), the local cattle rancher, is causing trouble for the saloon owner, Doc (Sam Rockwell), and Sheriff Taggart (Keith Carradine). Before the conflict can get too heated, however, the town is attacked by UFOs that capture several townspeople and fly off. Joined by the mysterious Ella (Olivia Wilde) and a ragtag band, Jake and Woodrow are forced to team up in order to track down the “demons” and get to the bottom of the attacks.
What I like most about this movie is the way the filmmakers took a seemingly ridiculous concept and seriously ran with it. The film could have been a tongue-in-cheek mashup of a western and a sci-fi movie, but instead the film combines elements of both genres pretty seamlessly and entertainingly. To that end, so much of this movie plays with inconic elements of both westerns and alien movies. Part of the fun for my Texan, western-loving movie buddy and me was picking out the elements of classic westerns that were included or slightly twisted to fit the Cowboys and Aliens concept. In fact, the film works so well because it inserts the aliens into a Western and adapts the genre to fit so the aliens don’t feel like they’re forced into the concept.
Sometimes the result of the “What would happen if aliens attacked cowboys?” equation comes out a little over the top. There were a couple of scenes that I laughed at because, while they were certainly entertaining, they pushed the suspension of disbelief a bit too far.
Another fun part of this movie is the sense that the script was sent out and actors jumped at it, very much wanting to come out and play. The cast is full of great actors, even in small roles. Daniel Craig is fantastic as the reluctant hero. He and Harrison Ford are great opposite each other. Additionally, Ford gives a solid, if somewhat predictable, performance as a bad guy with a soft side, especially opposite Noah Ringer as the sheriff’s grandson along for the ride and Adam Beach as his employee and, surprisingly, the son he wished he’d had. Olivia Wilde’s character is often gagingly clichéd, but she holds her own amidst a cast of really talented actors.
While the movie itself is pretty ridiculous, the ridiculous concept is executed so well, it is hard for me to find real fault in it. 4/5 stars
Cowboys & Aliens was written by Roberto Orci, Alex Kurtzman, Damon Lindelof, Mark Fergus, and Hawk Otsby, based upon the Platinum Studios comic book by Scott Mitchell Rosenberg and directed by Jon Favreau. It runs 118 minutes and is rated PG-13 for intense sequences of western and sci-fi action and violence, some partial nudity, and a brief crude reference.
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