Cowboys & Aliens (2011)

Director: Jon Favreau
Cast: Daniel Craig, Harrison Ford, Olivia Wilde, Abigail Spencer.

With a premise like cowboys fighting aliens, you really have to wonder how such a film can get made. Sure, it’s got a lot of big names backing it, but it just seems so ridiculous, you’d never think that so much money would be invested in something that seemed like such a guaranteed failure, a laughably bad film at best.

Of course, once people saw the trailer, their tune slowly began to change. The fact is, Cowboys & Aliens is not only a capable film, but a damn good one too.

The Plot:
Waking up in the middle of a deserted wasteland with absolutely no memory of who he is, one man (Craig) heads for the nearest town. While recuperating, he encounters a mysterious local woman named Elle (Wilde) and has a run in with Woodrow Dolarhyde (Ford), a land owner. Dolarhyde demands the man, whom he names as Jake Lonergan, to be put in his custody. But before this happens, the genuinely unthinkable happens, and aliens begin to invade.

It’s such a weird premise. I mean, seriously. Since the trailer has been playing for months now in cinemas, it seems standard, but it really is a melding of two of the most unlikely genres imaginable. Therefore, it is incredibly impressive that the film completely holds its own, not leaning too far into either genre, and making it an overall unique experience.

Cowboys and Aliens establishes itself as a good gritty Western from the off. This isn’t Paint Your Wagon. The setting is dusty and dirty, and a lot of blood is spilled very early on. Whiskey is drunk in the early afternoon and fist fights break out casually. Craig is immediately distinguishable as the Dirty Harry I’m-not-taking-crap-from-anybody character. He is, to sum up very simply, a complete badass, and he slips into this character as easily as the gun slips into its holster.

It’s great to see how little the film itself shies away from gritty reality as well. People get hurt, painfully and often fatally, and yet it portrays this with a just-deal-with-it attitude. In fact, the film itself slips so well into this hard and unforgiving Western genre, you might find yourself hoping the sci-fi doesn’t come in until much later.

As mentioned however, the two genres thankfully meld together brilliantly. Especially good is Ford’s reaction to just about anything out of the ordinary. As a tough and grizzled old veteran, he is set in his ways, and his gruff, though comical, attitude towards everyone and everything really helps set the mood for the entire film. The aliens aren’t seen very much until the excellent finale, in which case they are very much rampant. And although they are not particularly distinctive from a million and one other nasty movie aliens, they are still well designed and the CGI, for the most part, is satisfactory.

It’s not all perfect though. Wildes character, although well-played, has a back story which feels like a bit of a stretch. When her origins are revealed, it all seems too fantastical and would probably be out-of-place even in a regular sci-fi movie.

Overall:

This is only a minor qualm however, because Cowboys & Aliens is a very solid action film. It has likeable characters who play very well off each other, and Ford puts in a particularly impressive performance. It builds at a good steady pace, allowing for tension to rise suitably high before the excellent finale explodes on screen. It may not be a film you will seek out again immediately, but while it lasts, it is a very enjoyable experience.

Awful Rating: 7.5/10

*after hearing the aliens are there for gold*
“…Well that’s the stupidest thing I’ve ever heard. What are they gonna do, buy things?!” – Woodrow Dolarhyde

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