As a reader of this blog I’m going to assume you’re excited for Cowboys & Aliens based on its title alone. You probably also enjoyed Alien vs. Predator for the mere fact that you got to watch Aliens fight Predators. If you want to see cowboys (and Indians) fightin’ aliens, then yes, this film delivers and you won’t be disappointed. But, the real surprise is when you sit down to watch these two heavyweights duke it out you’re also rewarded with a poignant, heartfelt drama.
Cowboys & Aliens is a western in the truest sense of the word, from it’s sweeping landscapes to it’s gruff characters trying to make a living in an unforgiving world. Then, you thrown in some good ‘ole fashioned alien abduction, and you’re in for fun ride.
Mild spoilerage below the cut.
For the first quarter of the film we follow Daniel Craig, a man both trying to escape his past and remember it, with a mysterious metal bracelet attached to his wrist he can’t understand or remove. He stumbles into the little, podunk of Absolution where business ain’t booming and everyone lives in fear of Colonel Dolarhyde (Harrison Ford). Once Craig is recognized as most wanted, Jake Lonergan, and arrested for his crimes, among then robbing the good Colonel as well as murder, the town is attacked. And they’re attacked in such a way even the toughest hombre doesn’t stand a chance. Alien fighter jets zoom from the sky with bright lights and metal lassos to snatch up the terrified townsfolk. Only one thing seems to be able to bring them down, the mysterious bracelet on Jake’s arm. After witnessing the bracelets effectiveness, Dolarhyde, Jake and the remaining townsfolk head out to rescue their abducted kin and learn the mystery of the other worldly invaders.
Joining them is Ella (Olivia Wilde), another stranger in town searching for the aliens since they took her people too, the town’s doctor (Sam Rockwell) whose wife was abducted, Dolarhyde’s Indian cowhand (Adam Beach), the local preacher (Clancy Brown, totally the dude who voiced Lex Luthor in the Justice League cartoons, this kind of blew my mind), and the young Emmet (Noah Ringer), grandson of the town’s abducted sherriff (Keith Carradine).
The entire ensemble is incredible, but Ford’s performance impressed me the most. It’s one of the strongest performances we’ve seen from him in years and he perfectly blends the gentle, tender moments with one of epic badassry. Let me just say at one point he jousts an alien with a spear and it’s awesome. Craig as well pulls off the estranged loner looking to uncover his past well, and even has some great, funny moments in a film that has a lot more wit and humor than you would expect. Rockwell turns in a fantastic performs as the doctor out of place in saddle and with gun, but did you expect any less of him? And Beach’s relationship with Ford’s stern Colonel might be the most touching of the film. Even Wilde’s performance is more engaging than what we’ve seen recently (think Tron: Legacy) and I feel a lot of this is due to Jon Favreau.
Let’s face it, a film with such an unbelievable premise needed to be anchored by a great director. Favreau does a marvelous job of weaving together all the plot threads, from alien invasion, to tensions between cowboys and Indians, to themes of fathers and sons and then the mystery of Ella and what happened to her people. Really, the film is so much more than cowboys fightin’ aliens.
Oh, and what about those aliens. They’re cool looking, and their reason for invasion is a little different than what we’ve seen in the past which is refreshing. They look not too different from anything we’ve seen recently. Think of the sinewy looking aliens J.J. Abrams is fond of with a little Independence Day exo-skeleton thrown in. But they’re menacing, and a really tough opponent for our band of cowboys, Indians and outlaws.
Cowboys & Aliens seemlessly moves from high octane action to tender moments of reflection, angst and humor. I can’t recommend this flick enough. It’s something very different in a summer of sequels and sameness. Check it out and settle in for an exciting, emotional roller coaster through the Old West.