Cowboys and Aliens (2011) - Can't Stop the Movies
Can't Stop the Movies

Cowboys and Aliens (2011)

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As I have gotten older, I've appreciated the western genre more and more.   Something I used to see as a popular form from a past generation, severely outdated and out of touch, I can now see the appeal.   Unfortunately, my desire to see more movies with gunslingers and horses came about 20 years after the movies made any kind of money.  Nowadays to get a western made one has to have some sort of hook. This is too sad because I believe Cowboys and Aliens would have made a very enjoyable movie if they had dropped the aliens from the film.

A stranger (Daniel Craig) wakes up in the middle of nothing, disoriented and hurt with a strange device attached to his wrist.  After dispatching some unsavory types, the stranger stumbles into a small town.  Here he is patched up by the local preacher, Meacham (Clancey Brown) and the stranger tells him that he A) does not know who or where he came from and B) he doesn’t know what the bracelet is that is on his wrist.

Soon after he is patched up, the idiot son of the most powerful man in town starts shooting his gun very recklessly.  The entire town is too scared to stand up to him so the stranger puts him in his place. After things escalate, the son Percy (Paul Dano) accidently shoots a Marshall and the local sheriff (Keith Carradine) has no options but to arrest him.  The stranger goes to the local watering hole where he meets up with Ella (Olivia Wilde), a beautiful stranger in town that seems to know what is going on more than she is letting on.  Thanks to a wanted poster, the stranger is soon taken into custody and about to be shipped off to Santa Fe with Percy when Percy’s father, Woodrow (Harrison Ford) comes with his own posse to rescue his son and to even the score with the stranger, who happened to rob Woodrow of gold.

Are you still following this? If not, this picture is as good as a description anyway.

When all the characters are assembled in the dusty street, lights appear in the sky and the whole town starts to explode.  The flying machines start snatching up people and taking them away, including the local bartender’s (Sam Rockwell) wife, the sheriff and Percy.  The only thing that stops the aliens from taking more people is because the wrist gun turns on and they are able to shoot down one of the ships.  At this point, the characters’ worlds go to hell and so does the film.

It seems that the introduction of the aliens to the film meant that the screenwriters could just stop trying.  Everything after this point in the film is a jumbled mess with half explained actions and telegraphed story beats aplenty.

Since all the characters have someone taken from them by the aliens, a posse is created with the sheriff’s young grandson, the preacher, Woodrow, Percy’s friend Nat (Adam Beech), Ella and the stranger.  By this point, all the strong character building the film had been working up to stops for the action scenes.  Such good actors as Rockwell, Carradine and Brown are either wasted or underutilized.  Ella is just around and does nothing to make the audience care about her or even curious to find out more about her.  The only actors that are used well are Daniel Craig because, frankly, he makes a great cowboy and Harrison Ford because he actually uses some of his charm that has been missing for many years.

Pretty soon we get to see the actual aliens are introduced to the film and the design of them was at the same time strange and dull.  The aliens have giant sharp like sticks for arms and then another set of arms come from the inside of their body Alien style.  Biologically speaking, I don’t understand how this is a smart idea because to use these arms, they expose all of their organs to an easy attack.

By this point, the film is bouncing back between aliens popping up with the posse aimlessly shooting at them and a more traditional western film.  The posse ends up being taken prisoner by a tribe of Native Americans, and at this time an out of left field character twist happens and one of the major characters becomes nothing more than a mouthpiece to explain what the aliens are and the motivations.

"It's not me. I just hate ceilings!"

Apparently their whole reasoning for coming to earth is to (Spoiler Alert) take all the gold because “gold is important everywhere.”  What these beings want with the gold, they never explain other than say it is important.  We also learn that the people are being kidnapped so the aliens could study their weaknesses, even though the actual aliens seemed to realize pretty quick that stabbing and exploding people seem to get the job done pretty well.

Around this same time, the stranger gets his memory back and his name is Jake Lonergan, an outlaw in charge of his own band of misfits.  Now that the characters know that and why the aliens are here, it is time to stage the rescue of their loved ones.  It is here that the movies script stops trying at all.

Jake and Ella go into the giant ship to rescue everyone while Woodrow, the posse, Jake’s outlaws and the Native Americans hold down the fort and have a giant fight with the aliens.  The problem is the movie never made it clear how hard or easy it is to kill the aliens.  Sometimes a gun seems to do damage; other times it just annoys the aliens.  They seem really tough and almost indestructible only then to be taken down with a sharp stick a few seconds later.  Many faults can be found with the Transformers films, but when the final battle happens, the rules on how and why the robots can be defeated have been clearly been explained.

The rescued townspeople escape to safety and some remember who they are while others are still foggy and the only explanation there are is the half-assed explanation that “it’s different for everyone.”  The final insult with the movie is (Spoiler again) throughout the whole film Jake could not get off the wrist weapon but since the ending dictated this has to be how the day is saved, it is explained that it can be taken off if “he just stops thinking about it”.  The sound you will hear in the theater at this time is many hands smacking many heads at the same time.

Olivia Wilde operated under no such rules and could indeed take it off whenever she felt like.

It might seem like this is a terrible film, but the most frustrating aspect of the film is that it has enough good that the bad sticks out that much more.  Daniel Craig is perfect for a loner gunslinger and the supporting cast was filled out with some of the best character actors working today.  I liked that Favreau kept the tone serious without getting into tongue in cheek mode.  Favreau made a western with aliens thrown in instead of a parody of a film that just happened to look like a western.

Cowboys and Aliens had potential, had the cast and had an envious number of creative people steering the ship. The script really lets the film down once the aliens show up.  Instead of being an interesting mash-up of genres, the movie becomes a loud mess that doesn’t know what to do or where to go. It has enough (barely) going for it to recommend a rental but it isn’t worth going to the theatre to see it.  The one thing I thought throughout the second part of the film was that someday I hope Daniel Craig and Jon Favreau team up again to make the western that should have been made from the beginning.

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Posted by Ryan

Comments (2) Trackbacks (0)
  1. well every movie has to have a “hook” of some sorts. Theres been a few good westerns done in the last few years though. The remake of true grit, and one u probably havnt seen is a Sukiyaki Western Django which is a real good Q.T. film that came out in 2006.. and im sure there have been a few other ones.

    • I was lukewarm on the remake of True Grit but I agree there have been some good Westerns made in the last few years. I really liked 3:10 to Yuma and a small film called Appaloosa with Ed Harris.

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