Starring: Daniel Craig, Harrison Ford, Olivia Wilde, Sam Rockwell
Director: Jon Favreau
Chris’ Take: I said in my article about the films that were opening last weekend that I thought that Cowboys & Aliens had a 50/50 chance to be successful. I think a lot of that was based on hope that maybe they could find a way to make the premise based a little bit more in reality and that the film would find a way for us to somehow take it seriously. I knew that this was a summer blockbuster and that “seriousness” and “realistic” aren’t terms that really matter during the months of June – August, but with the outlandishness of the premise I actually thought it would be necessary to at least balance it out with some thought or it would end up being just like how the trailer for Battleship makes itself appear.
The film is loosely based on a 2006 graphic novel of the same name. Jake Lonergan (Daniel Craig) wakes up in the middle of the desert, wounded and wearing a mysterious metal bracelet. He can’t remember who he is or where he came from, but he stumbles upon a nearby town and finds out that he is a wanted criminal known for train robbery and murder. He is about to be handed over to the U.S. Marshals when out of nowhere the town is attacked by aliens, and many citizens are abducted. Lonergan finds out that the bracelet on his hand is an advanced weapon technology and possibly the only hope of defeating the aliens. He joins the gruff Colonel Dolarhyde (Harrison Ford), a mysterious woman (Olivia Wilde) and their posse in tracking down where the aliens took the townsfolk, in hopes of getting them back and ridding Earth of the alien scourge.
The film starts out very strong, introducing the audience to some intriguing characters and building a firm foundation steeped in the familiar feeling of an old school western. Daniel Craig is a great pick for Lonergan and really does attract the attention of the viewer with his tough and tumble mug. Right at the beginning we also get to meet the sheriff of the town (Keith Carradine) and he appears to be another strong character that is capable of maintaining a strong screen chemistry with Craig during and after Lonergan’s initial arrest.
Then, the film took a nose dive into oblivion. Harrison Ford shows up going over the top trying to convince us he is the bad ass Colonel Dolarhyde.
He sounded like he swallowed the voice modulator from the recent Batman films, and he came across as a cartoonish character that didn’t fit well with Craig and Carradine’s reasonable portrayals of serious western characters. It was when Ford showed up that I started getting a pit in my stomach that this film was going to go south.
I was thoroughly enjoying the Western that was unfolding, despite Ford’s attempts to ruin it and I hoped the aliens would just subtley (as much as aliens can) join the scene. While I knew they were coming, and that it would be a difficult task to make the two genres blend together, I was hoping that the Jon Favreau and crew had found a way to do it. The aliens’ arrival was jarring, as it was supposed to be, but it still was difficult to take in and adjust to the change in style.
From that point on, the film couldn’t find the balance between being a Western and a sci-fi action film, and felt uneven the whole way through. Daniel Craig did his best to keep the audience interested, and Harrison Ford did his best to bring him down. As much as I love Harrison Ford in many of his films, I thought he was a distinctly destructive factor to any chance this movie had to be successful. There was so much talent involved and Craig really tried to pull it off, but it was squandered every time Ford opened his mouth. No one else seemed to have any screen presence to support Craig either, even Sam Rockwell who usually is a magnetic presence in just about any role. Every time Rockwell showed up I realized that I forgot he was in the movie.
Favreau did manage to keep the jovial and summer blockbuster tone that I came to expect from his other action films, but his tone alone wasn’t enough glue to keep the film as a cohesive project. Possibly, this could be due to the fact that apparently 14 writers were involved in this project, even though only 5 were credited in the film. The production process was apparently difficult and it might have been that too many fingers were in this pie.
Like I said, in my humble opinion, it seemed that the only way for this film to work was to somehow actually approach the film in a serious manner, which is difficult to do when the title of the film is Cowboys & Aliens. That is not to say that you can’t have fun with it, it is a summer movie after all, but I think some maturity was needed to bring the two genres of Western and sci-fi together in an enjoyable fashion. In order to do that you need actors that will bring that maturity with them, and (with the exception of Craig) it just wasn’t there. I’m sure there are several teens that will love this movie, but I was hoping for something more. I guess it’s my fault for having hope.