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Review: Cowboys & Aliens

By August 24, 2011No Comments

Cowboys & Aliens posterDue to a parade of won­der­ful Film Festival screen­ings your cor­res­pond­ent was only able to get to one of this week’s new releases (and, thanks to the Empire’s fail­ure to open on Sunday morn­ing nearly didn’t make that one) so Glee: the 3D Concert Movie and rom-com Something Borrowed will have to wait until next week’s column. I’m sure you are breath­less with anti­cip­a­tion. But this means that Cowboys & AliensJon Favreau’s third com­ic book adapt­a­tion in a row after Iron Man 1 and 2 – gets the full review treat­ment. Does it deserve it? We shall see.

The scene is fron­ti­er New Mexico between the end of the Civil War and the arrival of the rail­road. A tiny little town, built for a gold rush that nev­er mater­i­al­ised, is only kept alive because of grumpy Harrison Ford’s cattle busi­ness. In the desert out­skirts Daniel Craig wakes up with amne­sia, a strange met­al brace­let and an abil­ity with unarmed com­bat that soon scores him a horse, a gun and a dog.

Turns out he is Jake Lonergan, the mean­est hombre west of the Pecos and there’s a bounty on his head. But before Sherriff Keith Carradine and the US Marshalls can bring him to justice the town is attacked by fly­ing sau­cers (NB not actu­ally saucer-shaped) and half the pop­u­la­tion is car­ried off into the sky by (what the remain­ing towns­folk can only describe as) demons. It’s obvi­ously a roundup (a famil­i­ar concept to every­one) but what for?

Ford raises a posse and needs Craig’s help – he’s handy with his fists and a gun and that brace­let turns out to be an ali­en weapon and the only thing that can shoot one of the ali­ens down. With the help of an Indian scout (Adam Beach) and a mys­ter­i­ous yet beau­ti­ful pion­eer woman (Olivia Wilde) they track one of the (green-blooded) var­mints hop­ing to find their lost loved ones before it’s too late.

As you may be able to tell from my sum­mary, Cowboys & Aliens is full of Western clichés but that might be enough for those young people who haven’t been much exposed to them – for a lot of kids Rango earli­er this uear might well have been the first Western they’d ever seen. For the rest of us though it’s a bog-standard aliens-have-come-to-mine-the-crap-out-of-our-planet movie with the six-shooter set­ting as the only novelty.

At just over two hours (a dur­a­tion dic­tated by the need to get full value out of every Industrial Light & Magic effect as well as the Giger-Alien-inspired slimy creatures), this is a film that wears its respons­ib­il­it­ies heav­ily. Fully three stu­dio logos open the pic­ture and you can tell there’s a lot at stake – the only sign that this is a Favreau film is the usu­al lack of con­trol over his sup­port­ing cast. Paul Dano threatened to be a ham in Little Miss Sunshine and There Will Be Blood but goes full pork in this as Ford’s spoilt only child.

As for the leads, Craig is reli­able enough and cer­tainly looks the part. He’s worked out that real movie stars have a mas­ochist­ic streak and now gets the bejaysus kicked out of him at every oppor­tun­ity. Ford’s mil­lion dol­lar smile lights up the screen on the only occa­sion he rations it out but oth­er­wise is in the same grumpy old man mode we saw a lot of Morning Glory earli­er this year.

The most strik­ing suc­cess story is Harry Gregson-Williams’ excel­lent score, com­bin­ing clas­sic Western motifs with big sweep­ing sci-fi ele­ments as well as actu­ally hav­ing a melody of its own – an ori­gin­al­ity miss­ing from the rest of the picture.

Printed in Wellington’s Capital Times on Wednesday 17 August, 2011.