Cowboys & Aliens, directed by Jon Fauvreau, (Iron Man), script by Roberto Orci and Alex Kurtzman(Transformers, Star Trek, Mission Impossible III) and produced by Universal Pictures, Dreamworks (Steven Spielberg) and Imagine Entertainment (Ron Howard), gives us an barrel full of familiar Western montages and then turns them on their ears, in a good way, as the heroes and the villians (and the Indians) unite to save their town from - yes its true - aliens.
The film starts with the classic shot of a loner stranded in the desert, hat less, barefoot, beaten. Except this loner has a weird metal bracelet on his arm that he obviously does not recognize and is desperately trying to remove with a rock. Enter the typical shabby set of drifters on horseback who think they are going to take advantage of this stranger. Smack, boom, crack – a classic Western takeover by the stranger, embellished at the last moment <spoiler alert> by the bracelet becoming an otherworldly weapon that fires just a tad better than your average six-shooter. And there we are: smack dab in the middle of a Western with a kicker. Oh, and with Harrison Ford (as Woodrow Dolarhyde) and Daniel Craig (as Jake Lonergan). And Olivia Wilde (House). Need we say more?
If you enjoy the performances of any of these three actors, you shouldn’t stay away from this film just because the premise is a bit of a mishmash. You certainly won’t experience a more unique script – and the acting is pretty good. In fact the only complaint is that at least two of the three main leads seem to be holding back their performances just a little bit. Perhaps afraid to go too big and tip over into parody? Worried about sci-fi giddiness? In either case, both Ford and Craig miss an opportunity to make the film more emotional, more gritty and a bit more genuine. Wilde, however, is wonderful – mysterious, luminous, capable – and so we can hope for a sequel to this ‘wild’ and wooly Western, just to experience her character again.
Daniel Craig is fab as the lone wolf going up against the traditionally evil, cantankerous cattle baron, holding yet another Western town hostage with his money, power and posse of never-do-wells. Ford is surprising in this villianous role, sneering and spitting his lines at everyone. And there is a nice bit of side business between Ford’s character and a Native American gun hand that could have gone just a bit deeper, but again, there is enough here for everyone to chew on, and chew they do!
Homages to John Ford, John Wayne, Hans Solo and James Bond abound in this film; you can also find snippets of Shane, High Plains Drifter, and Aliens, plus the unmistakably steely eyes of Clint Eastwood’s vintage surly cowboy poking out now and again thru Daniel Craig’s face.
Three and a half out of five stars. Good performances by all three main stars, a decent script, interesting special effects and lovely cinematography make this film a must-see for Harrison Ford and Daniel Craig fans, even if you don’t think you like sci-fi. After all, who doesn’t like a Western? Or Olivia Wilde?
Rated PG-13. Leave grandma and the younger kids at home. There is a whole lot of shootin’ going on here, loud special effects, some partial nudity, but hardly any cussin’ at all. Go figure.
Other film reviews you may enjoy:
Harry Potter & the Deathly Hallows, Part 2 - an emotional and action-packed conclusion to the popular Harry Potter series. Don't miss it!
Super 8– a spectacular film with outstanding performances, J.J. Abrams and Spielberg to boot. Jump in!
X-Men: First Class - best for fans of the series and of Jennifer Lawrence.
Thor- A lot of action, and Natalie Portman, make this film tolerable, but just barely.
Last Night– playing in limited release in theatres now, this film stars Kiera Knightly and Sam Worthington. A great flick. And a good date movie.
The King’s Speech- outstanding performances by Colin Firth, Geoffrey Rush and Helena Bonham-Carter make this unusual, but powerful film, well worth seeing. I predicted that it had a high probability to sweep the Oscars, with Firth a shoe-in for Best Actor. It was gratifying to see him win it.
The Black Swan- Natalie Portman won the Golden Globe and the Academy Award for Best Actress in her performance in this film and she deserved it.
Winter’s Bone- an astonishing performance by Jennifer Lawrence, for which she has received an Academy award nomination. Lawrence is set to star in The Hunger Game films.
The Infidel – a hilarious offering from last year’s Tribeca Film Festival, available now for rental or instant download on Netflix.
Win Win – Giamatti is wonderful in this film, now available on DVD.
Never Say Never – Justin Bieber, his rise to teen stardom and his dedicated fans. An interesting documentary and concert flick, fun and entertaining.
Love & Other Drugs- best for older teens and adults. Rated R for a reason. Anne Hathaway and Jake Gyllenhaal are naked for most of the film.