Wednesday, May 9, 2012

Cowboys & Aliens

Boy, nobody liked this one. It mostly bombed at the box office and got torn about by critics and in the world of mouth by moviegoers. Weird, because it was actually a pretty cool movie. Anyway, I finally got around to renting it last night, and I thought it was a lot of fun. I'm not saying it's one of the best movies or that it deserved to be the highest grossing film or the year or lauded by critics worldwide, but that if you watched this movie and came away thinking it sucked, you probably didn't actually watch the trailer, look at the poster, or even read the name. This was a movie about Cowboys fighting aliens, and a pretty well done and fun one at that.

I suppose I could understand coming away disappointed if you expected an incredibly deep story full of twists and turns, or even a high concept science-fiction movie with ground-breaking ideas and out of this world visuals. But I went in expecting a a fun, B movie with lots of action, and that's what the film delivered. I'm not saying that action films can't have depth or character development -- this film actually had some great characters who grew and changed over the course of the film -- I'm just saying that not every film has to be Hannah and her Sisters. Some films should just be Cowboys & Aliens.

It probably helped that I love Westerns, since this was mostly definitely a Western with a sprinkling of sci-fi elements as opposed to a science fiction story set in the old west. If you want a true sci-fi Western, watch Firefly or Cowboy Bebop. This film felt more like an homage to traditional westerns than anything else, just with the marauding group of outlaws replaced with aliens. And as a Western, it was awesome. The set up was fairly typical -- perhaps even cliche, but I'd say intentionally so -- about a man with no name type who comes to a town populated with outrageous characters who eventually look to him to save them from the gang of bandits terrorizing the town. Turns out this man has no name because he can't remember it, because he was abducted by aliens and had his memory erased. But I don't want to say too much about the plot, because there is so little of it already.

Our hero is played by Daniel Craig, who seems born to play a Cowboy. His performance is incredibly laconic and mostly silent, which is fine because it hid his less than convincing attempt at an Old West accent. But Daniel Craig broods better than just about any actor currently working today, and should win acting awards just for the things he does with his eyes that other actors couldn't do even with pages and pages of expertly written dialogue. Oh, and he's also a total bad ass. The scene where he jumps onto the horse and knocks that one guy down to the ground and then beats the crap out of him actually had me yell, "damn!" alone in my apartment. This was a great character, and one I'd watch a sequel about even if there weren't any aliens involved.

Most Westerns are only as good as their supporting cast, and luckily this one has a pretty good one. The town Doctor, sheriff, barkeep, drunk, and all the rest are played by one of the coolest casts I've seen in a long time, including Sam Rockwell, Clancy Brown, Olivia Wilde, Paul Dano, Keith Carradine, Adam Beach, and Walton Goggins. I think they missed an opportunity to include a few more veteran actors from the genre, but then again, maybe they're aren't too many of them around. They couldn't thrown somebody like Harry Carey Jr. in there somewhere. At least the did open with an appearance by Buck Taylor.

Best of all was Harrison Ford as Woodrow Dolarhyde, the rich rancher and all around town curmudgeon. When he's given the right role, Ford is an astoundingly good actor, and this was his best performance in decades, if not his best. Seriously, he's so good and given such great lines and long monologues that he stole the movie and made it worth watching if only for his sublime acting performance.

The movie definitely didn't need to be two hours long, however, and I think it would've performed better had they trimmed it down by maybe twenty minutes to a half hour. It's just too long, had maybe a couple too many characters, and just attempted to be epic in places where it should've been streamlined. But while it occasionally dragged a little or went on too long, it was never really boring, since the actors were so great and the entire film was so gorgeous to look at. I wasn't really a fan of the design of the film, since the alien creatures and their technology was kind of boring and seemed uninspired. The look of the aliens was a little too busy and garish, keeping them from being as iconic looking as they could've been. Also, though he's quite good at crafting a keen action set piece and always assembles great casts of actors, director Jon Favreau is always just good for me but never great. He has made a lot of really entertaining, fun movies, but he just seems to lack that spark that keeps his films from being true homeruns.

So... that's Cowboys & Aliens, a truly fun and exciting Western/Sci-Fi mash-up that's well worth seeing for fans of either genre. It won't rank on any best of lists, except for maybe among he best Westerns of the past decade or so, but fans of the genre know that isn't much of a list so far. But I liked it and I bet you will too.


Justin Garrett Blum said...

I didn't realize this movie was so hated by fans and critics. I recalled getting a "so-so" vibe from what I read and heard.

I'd give it a shot, though I think my tolerance for middling action films may be declining as I get older.

Donald said...

You should see it. You'll like it.

Mugato said...

Finally! I actually own this DVD. I'm not saying it's my favorite movie or anything but I thought it was pretty damn good. Far better than I expected.