Sunday, July 31, 2011

Review: Cowboys & Aliens (Mild Spoilers)

On Friday we went to see Jon Favreau's new movie, Cowboys & Aliens.  I went into the movie very excited, looking forward to seeing how Ford and Craig would work off of each other and the chance to see the lovely Olivia Wilde in anything is a pleasure.

I will preface this to saying that I really like Jon Favreau's work, of course to me he will always be Gutter, the stoner who screws up the beer run in PCU but finds redemption on the lonely road of life by convincing George Clinton to play a college house party.

Cowboys & Aliens begins and ends like a traditional western, the visuals and the tone is spot on in these scene.  There is definitely a modern flavor sprinkled in with language and actions that seem more modern then would be appropriate to the setting, but overall, I bought into this as a western.  The bulk of the film which occurs in between is scifi/western mash up that at times works and at other times feels like it just missed the mark. 

At this point we have seen so many different Hollywood aliens that it must be tough to come up with a novel concept for aliens.  Cowboys takes an interesting approach with the chest cavity with arms that come out for close in work. 

The aliens in effect lasso townsfolk to experiment on them, testing human physiology for strengths and weaknesses for a future invasion.

The alien technology was pretty cool looking especially their gold smelting technology.  The one issue I have is a question raised by the story and Jake Lonergan's (Daniel Craig) awesome bracelet.  The bracelet is pretty sweet and I particularly enjoyed the holographic sight.  But the story reveals that it is a piece of technology from the aliens that our cowboys are fighting.  The hang up for me was that the bracelet only seemed to work when the aliens were around.  Is it tied to them for energy and needs to have access to that to turn on?  Because if it is designed as a weapon, it doesn't make sense that the aliens would design it to work against themselves but not against other species.  We do see Jake use it against other humans and objects, but only when the aliens are near by.

One of the things that brought the film down a little bit for me was the casting and performances of a few characters.  Percy Dolarhyde (Paul Dano) is suppose to be a whiny, spoiled, bully, and he sucedes wildly.  The only problem is I am rooting for the aliens to kill him, not for him to be saved.  At the end of the film, I am left thinking, great, this punk lives yet some other much more like able characters are dead.

Doc (Sam Rockwell) is the emasculated, well meaning but not street smart character, that we see often and his story arc is to learn how to be a "man" and rescue his wife.  I can't exactly put my finger on it, but I don't really enjoy Mr. Rockwell's acting.

Emmett (Noah Ringer) is the young kid who for some reason the adults allow to come along on the posse.  Overall Noah's performance left me rather Meh.  But he did provide one of my favorite parts of the movie when Woodrow Dolarhyde (Harrison Ford) provides some great surrogate parenting and a shiny knife. 

There were some very good performances in this movie, Harrison Ford as Dolarhyde starts as a miserable old git but as the movie progresses you seem some real growth from his character.  Daniel Craig is solid in seemingly unstoppable butt kicking machine kind of way.  Olivia Wilde is fun and provides one of the better twists in the movie.  Walton Goggins (Shane from The Shield) provides some fun comedic relief.  My favorite supporting performance comes from Clancy Brown (Preacher Meacham).  Brown portrays a tough as nails man of faith who fits right in on the frontier.  Star Wars fans may recognize Brown as the voice of Savage Opress on The Clone Wars animated series.

The sound work in Cowboys was fantastic, you could feel the action in the theater.  The visuals were also very well done.  There are some broad sweeping vista shots that look beautiful, and the scenes set at night are very well done.

I would be remiss if I did not mention the similarities between a certain scene and Return of the Jedi .  Complete with Harrison Ford being captured by natives and having to be rescued by a god like figure.  The role of C-3P0 played by Olivia Wilde. 

The climactic battle of the movie features one side winning rather handily, then the other side making a comeback.  Even with suspension of disbelief fully engaged, this shift in momentum seemed a little incongruous.  

Overall Cowboys & Aliens is a fun summer movie, that gets a bit bogged down in its story in the middle but is worth the price of admission to see Harrison Ford kick some butt.


  1. They explained that the bracelet worked by thought at the end.

  2. As Jetrazor74 says and also, the bracelet did work when the aliens weren't about - when Craig returns to his gang and shoots his successor (the Irish chap asking for his gold). The Aliens don't turn up for ages after they had ridden all the way down the mountain...