Old 08-01-2011, 01:47 PM
Jon Favreau's Cowboys & Aliens

Here's the link to the published version of my review in my column at The Richmond Examiner:



Cowboys & Aliens (2011)

Jon Favreau’s “Cowboys & Aliens” is a film that starts off with promise, but quickly loses its way as it tries to merge two different genres. At its core, it seems the writers wanted to make it a solid western, but perhaps they felt that just wasn’t mainstream enough, so with an infusion of science-fiction, perhaps they thought they could reach out to a wider audience. However, all this ends up doing is giving the film a genre-confused feeling with an underdeveloped story.

It begins with a man (Daniel Craig) waking up in the middle of the desert. He doesn’t remember who he is or how he got there. He finds his way to the nearest town which just happens to be the small western town of Absolution. Here he has a run-in with a young, drunken troublemaker, Percy (Paul Dano), who accidentally shoots a deputy and gets himself arrested. This gets the attention of his father, Dolarhyde (Harrison Ford), a man who seems to have a firm grip on the town and even has his own posse.

Meanwhile, folks around town recognize the man from the desert as Jake Lonergan, the leader of a band of outlaws, who recently robbed Dolarhyde’s stagecoach. After he is arrested and thrown in jail with Percy, Dolarhyde comes into town demanding his boy back as well as Jake. However, before the situation can be resolved, a strange light appears in the sky, followed by an attack of small alien ships that kidnap several of the townspeople including Percy.

During the attack, Jake manages to use a strange bracelet on his wrist to shoot down one of the ships, so afterward, Dolarhyde puts aside his personal feelings and asks Jake to help him get his son back. With everything that’s at stake, including finding out what happened to him prior to the opening of the film, Jake sets out with Dolarhyde and several other townspeople to rescue those who have been abducted.

The biggest problem that “Cowboys & Aliens” has is its story. As mentioned earlier, it starts off well. The writers try to set up an interesting story about a man who can’t remember what’s happened to him, but it quickly becomes apparent that the writers just didn’t know what to do with it. You would think that five writers, including Roberto Orci and Alex Kurtzman (Star Trek) as well as Damon Lindelof (Lost), would be able to come up with something, but sadly nothing interesting ever materializes.

Another problem relating to the story is its structure. After the promising opening, the film falls into a repetitive mess of lulls that are occasionally interrupted by bland action sequences. It’s as though the writers are trying to make sure that the audience is still with them and hasn’t dozed off. During these action sequences, which are basically more attacks from the ships, and eventually the aliens themselves, there just isn’t much reason to care about the characters as they too have not been developed very far.

This certainly isn’t the first time that someone has tried to merge these two genres. You need look no further than Joss Whedon’s amazing, but short-lived television series “Firefly” for a superior example. These writers could learn a thing or two from Whedon in that the story and characters need to be developed in order for the audience to get engaged in the project.

Craig, known mainly as James Bond these days, gives a forgettable performance as Jake. Same goes for Ford who basically grunts his dialogue throughout the movie. It’s kind of hard to blame either of these actors though as their characters are not given a whole lot to do other than wander the desert and run around when attacking or being attacked by the aliens. Sam Rockwell and Paul Dano, both very talented actors, are also completely wasted in small supporting roles.

Had those five writers actually taken the time to develop the story and characters, this could have been an interesting tale. Unfortunately, it ends up being a wasted opportunity to merge these two genres once more. Perhaps this would have worked better as a full-on western, something we don’t see much of anymore. The sci-fi elements were the weaker of the two anyway. Throwing in the sci-fi merely turns this into an awkward film that continually tries to lean towards being a western, but keeps getting interrupted by explosions. Though, to be honest, there just isn’t a whole lot to interrupt here. 2/4 stars.
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