Cowboys & Aliens

This is a tough film to review.  Not because it's a particularly bad film.  It isn't.

It's because it's neither bad nor good.  It just sort of exists, in a nebulous realm of average film-making.

It's hard to point at a single detail and say "This is mediocre."  The plot hits a lot of the classic western tropes, from the cruel cattle baron to the bright-eyed kid, with stops at mysterious stranger and stoic Indian chief.  But you get the feeling that was the point.  While the movie is called Cowboys & Aliens it's really a classic western with aliens thrown in.  So certain character types are expected (only one I missed was "Town Drunk").

As such, it flows pretty well, only stumbling a bit in the final battle (which drags on a tad longer than it absolutely should. at least in my opinion).  While there are few surprise twists, it's basically a classc plot, told fairly well.

And I have no complaints about the acting.  Daniel Craig plays the reluctant hero very well, and the hints we get to his background help lift him out of the trap of becoming an Eastwood pastiche.

Harrison Ford, playing against type as the ostensible villain of the piece, has the strongest character arc of any of the main players.  His turn toward redemption is only a little forced.

As for Olivia Wilde…  she has little to work with, except in one scene where she bares all (emotionally and otherwise).  But she's not really a major player, but the bridge between the leads and the supporting cast.

And it's a good cast.  A nearly unrecognizable Clancy Brown channels his inner Jeff Bridges as the local preacher.  Sam Rockwell plays the local barman/doctor? as someone out of his depth, but strongly motivated to help.   And Paul Dano (a new name to me) does a great job as the eminently punchable Percy Dolarhyde (Ford's son).  We even get Keith Carradine as the sheriff.

The weakest performance among the humans is probably Noah Ringer as the token kid.  It's not that he does a BAD job, but that his role is so cliched as to give him no real way to shine.  Then again... it's his second film ever.  A little woodenness is understandable.

Then there's the aliens.  Despite a fairly unique motivation  for their invasion, their design is another bio-mechanical ooze-dripping monstrosity inspired by Giger.  And their reason or kidnapping humans (ostensibly, to find our weaknesses) falls apart a bit when one realizes that they can pretty much kill humans at will.

This isn't the deal breaker either, though.  After all, the aliens are less character than plot device.  They could almost as easily been mythical creatures, demons, or monsters.  The real focus is on the journeys the humans take.  One to maturity (the boy), another to redemption (Ford).  And the third...

Honestly, Craig's character does really change.  He starts out a cipher, gains his memory back, saves the day...  and then just leaves.  He doesn't get the girl  (or the OTHER girl).  He doesn't find peace.  He doesn't even get to keep the alien bling (pictured above).  He just wanders out of the story, possibly heading toward a sequel.

Maybe that's it.  Craig is the first character we see.  Most of the film follows him, and a good chunk of the plot centers on who he is and what he can do.  And at the end, there's no payoff.  He doesn't get a happy ending, or a sad ending.  He just gets an ending.

Ah well... it's still a decent western.  If that's enough for you, you might want to rent this someday.

Final thought:  Harrison Ford + Native Tribespeople > Alien Army.  I half expected the Apaches to break out into cries of "Yub Nub!" at the end. :)


Anonymous said...

I generally agree with this review, except that I felt that both Ford and Craig were channeling Eastwood at different points in his career. And that they threw in some bizaree stuff for its own sake.

By only real gripe is that they were inconsistent regarding the aliens's invulnerability. The bullets didn't affect them -- unless the writers wanted them to. If they'd worked that one out a bit better, the showdown would have felt a bit less contrieved. (For example, if a Peacemaker round can't penetrate, but fired from a Winchester, it does -- I know, not really logical but consistent.)

Mario Di Giacomo said...

I don't disagree about the aliens, but I felt (when writing the review) that if I thought too hard about the plot holes concerning them, the whole thing would fall apart.

As for the Eastwood comparison... that's certainly possible. I was more reminded of Shane, myself.