Friday, July 29, 2011

Cowboys and Aliens ***

There were, inherently, two possible way to go with a movie called Cowboys and Aliens: The first, and most obvious, is a very spoofy, F/X comedy direction, something akin to Men In Black. The second, which director Jon Favreau and producers Steven Spielberg and Ron Howard have chosen, is to play it straight, to do a traditional western wherein suddenly aliens invade. It certainly offers the first alien invasion movie to come along in quite some time that feels like it has something new to offer.

        Daniel Craig stars as a mysterious man with no name and no memory, who wakes up with strange device strapped to his wrist. He rides to a town called Absolution where everyone, even the Sheriff (Keith Carradine) seems to fear the imposing Colonel Dolarhyde (Harrison Ford), a civil war veteran who now runs the local cattle busines, and, by extension, the town. Craig is soon didentified as Jake Lonergan, a wanted criminal, and jailed after an altercation with Dolarhyde's sniveling brat of a son (Paul Dano). Meanwhile, a mysterious local woman named Ella (Olivia Wilde) shows an inordinate interest in Lonergan.

      Then, of course, the aliens show up, kidnapping half of the town, including Percy, the Sherrif, and the wife of the local Doc (Sam Rockwell), forcing Lonergan and Dolarhyde to team up track them down, turning the movie into a hybrid of Predator and The Searchers. The first act of the film left me wondeing if perhaps the filmmakers had chosen to play it TOO straight: the almost complete lack of humor does darken things considerably, and it's easy to recognize Lost writers Roberto Orci, Alex Kurtzman and Damon Lindelof in a story that seems to actually want to confuse you. But when the film takes off, it really takes off, thanks to Favreau's wise decision to direct the film in the style of an old fashioned western (saving any modern camera tricks for the aliens, which accentuates the difference between the two worlds), and, of course, to Craig and Ford.

        The teaming of James Bond and Indiana Jones is an event in and of itself, and both contribute greatly to the proceedings here. Craig has mysetrious, brood toughness that recalls Clint Eastwood, while his American accent makes him sound like Steve McQueen. Since Craig already looks like Steve McQueen I found myself fairly disoriented at times, thinking the deceased star had somehow wandered back onto the big screen. Craig easily shows that he can carry a blockbuster outside of the James Bond franchise, and that he is the successor to Harrison Ford as Hollywood's top action star. Ford himself gives one of the more interesting performances we've seen from him in a while, giving it his all in a role that isn't quite what it first appears to be. Two of Hollywood's greatest tough guys leave you feeling like the vicious, brutal aliens don't stand a chance. The supporting cast is generally strong, particularly the always dependable Sam Rockwell (nicely playing a character without any weaselly qualities, for a change). Adam Beach also stands out as an Indian ranch hand in Dolarhyde's employ, as does Clancy Brown as the local preacher. And Hollywood's Babe-of-the-Moment, Olivia Wilde, makes a more interesting prescence here than she did in Tron: Legacy, showing there's hope she might turn out to be more than a pretty face/body. At very least, she's light years ahead of Megan Fox as an actress.

      Cowboys and Aliens may be too dark and serious for some, and it once again proves the fact that a PG-13 rated movie can get away with almost any ammount of violence as long as what they're killing doesn't look human (think Lord of the Rings). But, for those who enjoy westerns or pulp sci-fi, there's a lot to enjoy here, especially with Craig and Ford on board. I found it to be one of the most enjoyable rides of the summer.

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