Cowboys & Aliens


Reviewed by: Jennie Kermode

Cowboys and Aliens
"With so much good work involved in the cowboy side of the film, it's a real shame that the aliens appear to have been hastily sketched on the back of an envelope."

Somebody should have cast Daniel Craig in a Western long before now. He has the perfect look for it, eyes narrowed under a battered brown Stetson, pistol at his hip, sticky-out ears and all; and the early scenes of this film show that he can carry the part. Like the greatest heroes of the genre, when everything is going to Hell around him, he knows how to stand there and do nothing. Of course, this has extra advantages for a character who doesn't know what he's supposed to be doing anyway. He's just woken up in the desert with a strange wound and an even stranger metal bracelet that he's unable to remove. Unfortunately he has a reputation that appears to have preceded him, and little opportunity to live a quiet life. Not that anybody in the area will have that opportunity for long.

Trouble starts in a small way with the idiot son of the local landowner looking for trouble in a semi-abandoned boom town. The landowner is Mr Dolarhyde (Harrison Ford, also perfectly suited to his role); he's protective of his boy but not at all impressed by him. This makes things complicated for the townspeople, but they have bigger things to worry about when a stand-off is interrupted by the arrival of low-flying alien spaceships that shoot up the place and carry off random people. Among those taken are the wife of local barkeeper Doc (Sam Rockwell) and the grandfather of token cute kid Emmet (Noah Ringer). So a posse is formed to try and track down the one alien who has escaped on foot. Since his bracelet appears to have special powers, our amnesiac hero is persuaded to join the group, and he's followed by a mysterious woman (Olivia Wilde) who seems to have an agenda of her own.

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So far, so good. By and large that characters work together and we quickly come to care about what happens to them. Ford is particularly good in this part of the film, his character bonding with the kid and showing an awkward affection for the native youth (Adam Beach) whom he has raised as a servant but whom he secretly wishes was his son. Along the way we discover little flashes of our hero's past but the focus remains in the present, where the alien quarry quickly turns into a threat.

With so much good work involved in the cowboy side of the film, it's a real shame that the aliens appear to have been hastily sketched on the back of an envelope. More redolent of Skyline or The Mutant Chronicles than anything worthy of the name science fiction, they're hulking masses of slime, armour plating and gangly limbs, mysteriously obsessed with racks, scalpels and touching children's faces. We're told they capture humans to test their weaknesses, yet we're also told that they don't consider humans a threat at all - which is it? Although they are given a semi-credible reason for coming to Earth, their behaviour upon arrival makes a lot less sense. And this is only one example of the lazy writing that gradually pulls apart a promising film.

With little idea where to take its bold premise, Cowboys & Aliens soon descends into a loosely strung-together series of chases and poorly choreographed fights. Little patches of dialogue feel like cut scenes from a video game and the feeling is bolstered by a seamlessly predictable plot. Twee revelations about Wilde's character might have left some room for fresh ideas in the second half but there's no room for innovation in a film clearly written by committee. It's a shame. The end result is still quite watchable - great fun in places - but it should have been much more so.

Reviewed on: 16 Aug 2011
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Cowboys & Aliens packshot
Groups of Wild West settlers, outlaws and native tribespeople have to band together when faced with an alien threat.
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Director: Jon Favreau

Writer: Roberto Orci, Alex Kurtzman, Damon Lindelof, Mark Fergus, Hawk Ostby, Steve Oedekerk, Scott Mitchell Rosenberg

Starring: Daniel Craig, Harrison Ford, Abigail Spencer, Buck Taylor, Olivia Wilde, Sam Rockwell

Year: 2011

Runtime: 118 minutes

BBFC: 12A - Adult Supervision

Country: US


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