Director Jon Favreau has given us a mixed bag in his new mixed-genre film COWBOYS AND ALIENS
The western/sci-fi/thriller has a fascinating beginning, a satisfying ending, but it sags in the middle like an old mattress.
The film features some strong performances, especially from Daniel Craig as Jake Lonergan, and some breathtaking scenery, but its weaknesses keep it from being a truly successful film.
Back to Daniel Craig. His character makes Clint Eastwood look like a sissy. In fact, I think this film, along with his turns as James Bond, makes him a certified dangerous individual! His hard-planed face and steely gaze make lesser men tremble and reassure the audience that, no matter what, he’ll come out okay. He’s the best thing in the film. Interestingly, the film opens with sweeping shots of the rugged New Mexican landscape as the audience discovers a shoeless, wounded Jake sitting in the middle of this wilderness. He has no memory – doesn’t even remember his name – and has a strange, metallic shackle around his wrist which he can’t remove. It’s an intriguing beginning.
Jake wanders into the town of Absolution where a tough but caring preacher named Meacham (Clancy Brown) sews up his wound and gives him the lay of the land. Absolution, it turns out, is a town living in fear of the man who owns just about everything and shows no mercy to anyone – Woodrow Dolarhyde (Harrison Ford). He has a no-account son Percy (Paul Dano) whose idea of fun is to get drunk and shoot up the town. He also took in an orphaned Apache boy, now a man, Nat Colorado (Adam Beach) whose loyalty to Dolarhyde is unconditional and unwavering. Nat is everything that Percy is not, but Woodrow seems oblivious to that fact and blames Nat when Percy gets arrested by the beleaguered, but resolute, town sheriff John Taggert (Keith Carradine). Taggert is raising his young grandson Emmet (Noah Ringer) who fears that Dolarhyde will hurt his grandpa since Taggert is determined that Percy will face justice. Also victimized are the mild-mannered saloon owner Doc (Sam Rockwell) and his beautiful wife Maria (Ana de la Reguera). A mysterious woman named Ella (Olivia Wilde) lurks around and seems to have quite an interest in Jake and his lost memory. The use of Wilde’s character is, in fact, one of the weaknesses of the film. She spends the first half of it just hanging around looking wan. Fortunately, her character is put to better use in the last half of the film, but the delay in getting on with the story causes that sagging middle of the narrative. Once the aliens attack, you think the pace is going to pick up, but it still takes too long to get to the real meat of the story line.
Favreau has said in interviews that the design of the aliens was based on those from ALIEN and PREDATOR, and that’s exactly what I thought of when I saw them. As far as Hollywood-style aliens are concerned, they’re okay, but just once I’d like to see aliens that don’t roar and growl at their victims. If these guys have all this advanced technology and weaponry, it seems that they could communicate in some other way, but they always growl with slime-dripping fangs and act like mindless monsters.
When it comes to exactly HOW “Old West Cowboys” stand a chance against such a potent extraterrestrial enemy, well,…
I’ll leave it to you to discover how the locals come out in their battle with the aliens -- but let’s just say that they get some help from a very unexpected source.
There are some fine performances from Clancy Brown, Sam Rockwell, and Keith Carradine. In fact, I would have liked to see much more of Carradine. He did a great job of embodying the Old West. Harrison Ford does his usual crusty old guy with a VERY hidden soft heart, and his performance strengthens as the film progresses. However, it’s Craig who carries this film and makes it obvious to every man -- and woman -- in the audience who the alpha male is.
If you like westerns, there’s enough great scenery and authentic-looking characters to satisfy. If you’re more into syfy, you won’t really find anything new.
Once it picks up again, it IS a thriller. The problem is in the pacing.