Cowboys and Aliens **
Directed by: Jon Favreau.
Written by: Roberto Orci & Alex Kurtzman & Damon Lindelof and Mark Fergus & Hawk Ostby based on the comic book by Scott Mitchell Rosenberg.
Starring: Daniel Craig (Jake Lonergan), Harrison Ford (Woodrow Dolarhyde), Olivia Wilde (Ella Swenson), Sam Rockwell (Doc), Adam Beach (Nat Colorado), Clancy Brown (Meacham), Keith Carradine (Sheriff John Taggart), Paul Dano (Percy Dolarhyde), Noah Ringer (Emmett Taggart), Walton Goggins (Hunt).
I love alien invasion movies almost as much as I love Westerns, so Cowboys and Aliens should have been right up my alley. And yet, I cannot find too much positive to say about the film. It is a boring and lazy film that really offers very little of the fun that combining these two genres should have generated. It feels as if no one involved in the film – from the writers to director Jon Favreau to the actors – are simply going through the motions. They are all capable of much better than this.
The film stars Daniel Craig as Jake Lonergan, who at the beginning of the movie wakes up in the middle of nowhere, with no memory of how he got there, and a strange metal bracelet on his arm. He is almost immediately set upon by three men who think there could be a bounty on his head – and he quickly dispatches with all three of them, steals some clothes and a horse and rides into town. It appears that people there know who he is – and don’t much like him. He recently led a gang that stole some gold from Woodrow Dolarhyde (Harrison Ford), who pretty much owns the whole town. He quickly runs afoul with Dolarhyde’s no good son Percy (Paul Dano), and the two of them end up in jail. As they are about to be transferred to the federal Marshall’s, aliens attack the town, and take half the people. And Jake learns the metal bracelet on his arm is a weapon – the only weapon that seems that effective against the aliens. A posse is formed, and Lonergan and Dollarhyde are forced into an uneasy alliance to try and get back the people of the town. And who is the strange woman, Ella (Olivia Wilde), who seems to know more than she is letting on?
Personally, I think a very good movie could have been made out of this material. Cowboys and Aliens are two things you certainly do not associate with each other, and yet, could very easily be blended – with the cowboys having to band together to fight the invading horde. Add in the Indians as further good guys, as the movie does near the end, and you really don’t even have to change the basic setup of a Western all that much – just sub in the savage aliens for the savage Indians in classic Westerns, and the movie pretty much writes itself. Unfortunately however, the filmmakers seemed to have done just that – written the film on autopilot, and added nothing interesting to the mix. Director Jon Favreau usually makes his films, including the two Iron Man films, fun and visually interesting, but here he finds the least interesting way to shoot practically everything. The aliens themselves show zero imagination – essentially, they are clones of the Aliens creatures. This lack of imagination extends to most of the below the line aspects of the film – the cinematography, editing, art direction, costume design, the music. It isn’t that any of them are particularly awful, it’s just that they all seem like the safest, least imaginative choices available to the filmmakers.
The biggest problem to me though is the cast – particularly the two leads. I know what Daniel Craig is going for in this movie – a kind of Clint Eastwood, Man with No Name, stoicism, yet he simply comes across as bored. Harrison Ford has pretty much come across as bored in every movie for the last decade. While sometimes that works – like in last year’s Morning Glory, where he was after all playing a man who was bored – most of the time it comes across as if he no longer cares. Here, he is simply going through the motions – which dooms his character, who is so full of contradictions it would have been difficult to play even had Ford given it his all. Olivia Wilde continues to be given not much interesting to do in movies. Like in Tron: Legacy, it seems like everyone is enamored with her beauty, and feel they don’t need to give her anything interesting to do. There are some nice supporting performances – Ketih Carradine fits his role as the grizzled Sheriff perfectly, Sam Rockwell plays the wuss who needs to man up nicely and Walton Goggins is in fine form as dimwitted bad guy, but it hardly redeems the movie.
Perhaps it’s just that it is now late July, and I have seemingly had to watch a special effects driven spectacle every week for the past three months. And yet, the past two weekends brought two of my favorite blockbusters of the year with Harry Potter and Captain America, so I don’t think that’s it. I think it’s simply that everyone involved in Cowboys and Aliens is simply going through the motions, and the result is plain to see.