One morning, not long ago, I woke up wanting to watch a Western movie. For most, that would mean something classic like The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly. Maybe something a little more recent such as the recent release of the Magnificent Seven. Definitely something with Clint Eastwood, John Wayne, or even Roy Rogers.
Me being me, I couldn’t settle for anything ordinary (after binge watching Bonanza – of course). No, I had to go and find one of the few mixed genre Westerns out there – Cowboys & Aliens, released in 2011.
If you ask my sister, it’s definitely as bad as it sounds. And I will admit, some of the acting leaves you wanting. The plot-line might be a little thin in places. But for an off-the wall movie that actually tries to be serious despite its alien antagonists, it does have a lot going for it.
The most redeeming feature is it’s main character, Jake Lonergan, played by Daniel Craig. I have never seen someone turn snarkiness into a physical art form, but it is definitely present in this movie. Most of my favorite parts involve Daniel Craig staring at someone being a jerk and then taking them down in the most efficient way possible while all but rolling his eyes. The main target of a lot of his deadpan physical attacks is one of the movie’s two weakest links, Paul Dano, whose horrible accent, and over the top acting do nothing for the overall tone of the movie. I’m not ashamed to admit that watching Daniel Craig take him down several pegs over the course of 20 minutes makes me giggle in glee. When it’s combined with Craig’s typical verbal sparring finesse, he makes the movie a worthwhile watch.
Unfortunately, Dano’s lack of performance is outdone by Sam Rockwell. Rockwell, who did a credible job as Justin Hammer from Iron Man 2, falls flat as a Western bar-keep/Doctor. He sounds exactly like he did in Iron Man 2 with the same irritating whine and no attempt at Western parlance. There were no decent “ya’ll’s” coming out of that man’s mouth or anything else that could be mistaken for attempting to adapt to a Western film. My only regret is that his character managed to survive the movie when several others deserved a longer shelf life, like the Reverend Meacham, played by Clancy Brown.
It is also to be noted that Harrison Ford attempts playing a Western rancher. He does better than Dano and Rockwell, however, his performance still feels flat. I think that has more to do with the script than any deficiencies on Ford’s part. He has the voice and the look down pat, but some of his lines just don’t fit in well with the movie. He’s still enjoyable to watch though and has many good one-liners of his own.
Now comes the important question. How did Jon Favreau manage to combine two such very different genres into one movie? The answer? Through some very clever writing.
The movie opens up with Jake Lonergan lying in a desert with a strange metal band around his wrist. After acquiring a horse and weapons in a furious style similar to a certain agent of MI6, he rides for the town of Absolution. There, he gets revealed as a notorious outlaw/murderer and promptly gets stuck in jail with the irredeemable son (Dano) of the biggest cattle rancher in the territory (Ford’s Colonel Dolarhyde). Olivia Wilde wanders around making cryptic remarks about knowing more about Jake than he does and contributes prominently to him ending up in jail. About the time they are about to transport the two prisoners to Santa Fe, the aliens attack the town in a swirl of blue lights and screeching metal sounds. Several citizens get kidnapped including the local sheriff, the barkeeps wife, and Percy Dolarhyde.
To get back their family members, a posse rides out with Jake Lonergan and Colonel Dolarhyde at the front. The former because he’s the only one capable of bringing down the aliens with the alien tech wrapped around his wrist and the latter, because he wants his gold and his son back. They track an injured alien across the desert, team up with both indians and outlaws, and eventually manage to bring down the alien spaceship, presumably preventing any other aliens from coming to Earth. But why would the aliens come to Earth in the first place?
Gold. Of course it’s gold. As plot-lines go, this is a fairly lame way to go. It is said that they value the gold as much as the humans of Earth, but it’s never explained why or what they really do with it. Or even why they are kidnapping humans other than to “study their weaknesses.” But it does give a valid reason for the aliens to keep turning up as they are drawn to the shiny metal which was plentiful in the Old West.
It’s a hit or miss movie. Either you love it or you hate it. I, personally, happen to love it. But like with so many of my other movies, I have to be in a certain mood to watch it. There are better Westerns out there. There are better alien movies out there. But if you want quirky and a combination of both, then this is a little-known gem. It does have some great messages hidden in it, chiefly that you aren’t defined by your past. The visuals aren’t anything to slouch at either. It also has more heart and humor than you would expect and in the most unlikely places.
Adults: Serious Western fanatics despair! However, if you just want a fun romp through the desert with some cowboys trying to take down some aliens, then this is your movie. If you are a fan of Daniel Craig at all, his performance is definitely worth a watch.
Children: The gore level isn’t too bad, but there’s a bit of torture and a bit more alien blood and scary aliens than you probably need to see. However, if the 10 year old kid riding with the posse can survive the experience then you probably can too.