Monday, 22 August 2011
Cowboys & Aliens – reviewed by Douglas J. Ogurek
A mangy-looking man (Daniel Craig) awakens in a setting typical of the early American Southwest. A strange metallic device is stuck on his wrist, and he remembers nothing. He makes his way to the dusty streets of Absolution, where locals recognize him as the outlaw Jake Lonergan, wanted for theft and murder. But there is something more threatening to the town (and to all of mankind) than Jake Lonergan.
The huge piece of bling-bling clamped onto Lonergan turns out to be a weapon capable of taking down human-snatching aliens. Lonergan’s memories begin to return, and the links between the aliens and a mysterious woman grow clearer.
More than once, director Jon Favreau (Iron Man, Iron Man 2) gives the aliens a delightfully flamboyant entrance: Just when the action of the conventional western peaks, the aliens invade the scene in their insect-like jets!
Despite this being a big-budget action film targeted toward the inattentive modern day viewer, Favreau lovingly portrays some of the finer details: the gulping of whiskey, a thumb testing the sharpness of a blade, the crunching on an apple, the wood of an imperfect fence. These details, coupled with some beautiful vistas of New Mexico, help establish authenticity and plunge the viewer deeper into the fictional dream.
Daniel Craig sheds his Bondian sophistication (and his British accent) to portray Lonergan, the gritty outsider reminiscent of Stephen King’s gunslinger Roland Deschain or the typical Clint Eastwood western protagonist. Craig’s chiseled good looks, ectomorphic frame, and stripped down dialogue complement his stoic character, and his saunter would give John Wayne a run for his money.
As Colonel Woodrow Dolarhyde – don’t you just love the names? – Harrison Ford plays a money-hungry rancher whose power the people of Absolution fear, yet whose true character isn’t nearly as rough as his exterior. Dolarhyde’s attempts to mask his compassion in sarcasm and overt masculinity add humor. Be sure to look for one of Ford’s trademark half-grins.
Those who appreciate strong acting get a healthy dose of it in the beginning of the film. Paul Dano (There Will Be Blood) offers a nuanced and humorous sideshow as Percy, the ne’er-do-well son of Dolarhyde. However, Favreau chose just the right amount of screen time for Percy, who would have grown annoying. Percy’s absence for the majority of the film proves an eccentric character does not a sci-fi/western make. No insult to Dano intended.
Some reviews chastised this film as uninspired or stale. Perhaps they missed the film’s title, and the overall concept. Hey, this is Cowboys… and Aliens! The challenge was not to come up with an original western, nor was it to come up with unique aliens. The challenge was to effectively bridge two very familiar genres, and in this Cowboys & Aliens succeeds masterfully.
Cowboys & Aliens, directed by Jon Favreau. Universal, 118 mins.