Director: Jon Favreau
Starring: Daniel Craig, Harrison Ford, Olivia WildeBlending, or rather smashing, two such disparate genres as Western and Sci-Fi together is a fairly risky business. The mantra I kept repeating to myself before the curtains parted was, “Please don’t be like Wild Wild West, PLEASE don’t be like Wild Wild West!”. Rest assured… it’s nothing like Wild Wild West.It’s a fine cast that’s been assembled for the movie. Daniel Craig is basically a cowboy James Bond, all sweaty and moody. Harrison Ford has a great turn as nasty cattleman, Colonel Woodrow Dolarhyde. He plays it just on the right side of pure evil, so we’re not overly conflicted when the plot asks us to cheer for him in the film’s climax. Olivia Wilde is the heroine with a twist; the modern turn on the western staple ‘tart with a heart’ which these days seems to be the gunslinging independent type, well it’s just not pc to cast every woman in a western as either a prim housewife or a smutty hooker! Paul Dano is fantastic as Dollarhyde’s son, he really doesn’t get enough screen time, it’s not his fault though, the aliens got him!
Yes, on to the aliens, they are an integral part of this movie. It turns out that there is a gold loving alien civilisation in the desert mining for gold and kidnapping locals with their sci-fi lassos. Apparently they are performing experiments on them, to what end it’s not really clear, but hey, it’s a plot device, and it gets us where we need to go. It turns out that Daniel Craig had been abducted by the aliens and had managed to escape with one of their shooty armband thingys.
You can see where the movie is leading. As the townfolk are captured a posse is rounded up to go after them. Bad and good work together to get rid of the new threat. Even the native Americans get in on the act towards the end, putting aside those old genocide grievances to help the white man. They must be pretty rubbish native Americans though, as they seem to have missed the giant alien ship that was hiding in the canyon, seemingly minutes from where we first meet them!
There are a few odd editing choices like this in the movie, attempting to stop the film from lagging, which it does in the middle. There’s a set-piece that takes place in an upturned river steam boat that has somehow arrived in the desert 500 miles from the nearest river. Again, we are given no clue as to why the aliens lifted up a ship and dragged it 500 miles, but hey, it allows the cast to have a few scenes somewhere dark for a change.
Pacing issues aside the movie is genuinely enjoyable. The action scenes are well managed, and there’s a good chemistry between all the characters. There are no huge twists in the plot, but that’s not the point of the movie really. The only criticism I would have of the film is that it would have been better without the aliens. Yep, I would have preferred to see the movie ‘Cowboys’. There is more than enough chemistry between the main characters and there is depth to them as well. Craig’s character has a whole backstory with a gang that could have been explored, Ford’s Colonel similarly has a military background that shapes who he is when we meet him. There was more than enough material there for a really meaty western. I guess straightforward movies don’t sell these days. As Super 8 was ‘Stand By Me’ with a giant Alien, so too ‘Cowboys and Aliens’ is ‘The Magnificent Seven’ with aliens instead of bandits.
While being the stand out Sci-Fi Western in recent memory, Cowboys and Aliens is unfortunately constrained by the box it put itself in.
3 ½ out of 5