I am not shy with admitting that I am not a fan of the classic Western films. But, when a Western is mashed up with the sci-fi alien invasion genre? You’ve got my attention. Is Cowboys & Aliens a great film? Nope. A good film? That’s debatable. What is not debatable is that the film is entertaining.
Given the title of the film, it is hard not to spoil the fact that the film features cowboys and aliens. Daniel Craig plays Jake Lonergan who wakes up without his memory, but with a strange metal device wrapped around his left forearm. Harrison Ford plays a gruff old racist bastard who, by the end of the film learns the errors of his ways. Huh? Olivia Wilde plays a woman with a hidden secret. The title of the film basically is the plot. There are cowboys, there are Indians and there are aliens. The humans fight the aliens, lots of explosions later and the film wraps up. There is nothing deep about the film.
The film checkmarks some standard Western cliches and tropes:
- Steely-eyed stone-cold nearly-silent stranger arriving in town. Check, that’s Lonergan.
- A town sheriff. Check.
- Multiple scenes of people riding horses through expansive landscapes. Check.
- Saloon fight. Check.
But, boy the film goes off the rails when the aliens come. The aliens are apparently here on Earth to harvest gold – because gold is precious to them also. One would figure that if the aliens could find gold on Earth somehow, their equipment could find gold elsewhere in the universe, like maybe some asteroids. Anyways, the aliens are experimenting on humans to find our weaknesses. Why? Because they could get that sci-fi trope in there. I am sure that if they aliens took a look at one human, they could figure out that we are all fragile little meatbags – especially given the power of the alien weapons that are shown on film. But, oh well, this is not a film about the story or plot.
Jon Favreau, who did a great job with Iron Man (and less so with Iron Man 2), shows that he does have some action directing chops left in him – though, he seems best outside the action genre as shown by his better film Chef. Favreau kept the film quite serious, which I think hurt it a bit. The film could have benefited from some levity.
Daniel Craig is good as Lonergan, though he doesn’t have much to say in the film. While it’s always cool to see Harrison Ford in a film, I don’t think he really fit his part as Dolarhyde. I am not sure why, but him in that part never really worked for me. In a supporting role, Clancy Brown was really good as Meacham, a wise and patient priest.
While I don’t like classic Westerns, Cowboys & Aliens sold me with its bizarre mashup of genres. Favreau’s direction of the film kept it watchable and I had fun watching the film. I have seen both the theatrical release and the extended version. I could not really tell what 15 minutes of footage was added back in the extended version. Either version is entertaining, the extended version is just longer for no great benefit.