A man (Daniel Craig) wakes up in the desert, wounded and alone, with no memory of himself or how he got there. All he knows is that he has a weird thing clamped to his left wrist. Oh, and he remembers that he's a bad-ass, because he kills the hell out of a trio of bounty hunters. Our man with no name finds a name (Jake, as it turns out) when he moseys on over to the nearest town, Absolution. The town is a washed-up mining spot that never had much luck with mining. The town is still kicking only because old man Dolarhyde (Harrison Ford) uses it as a base for his cattle operation. This tends to put him and his men --- especially his spoiled rotten and frequently drunken son, Percy (Paul Dano) --- above the law. Well, Jake publicly humiliates Percy while Percy attempts to publicly humiliate the local saloon owner (Sam Rockwell), which leads to Percy accidentally shooting a deputy. Percy gets locked up, ready to be sent to the big city to be arraigned. Jake is also locked up for apparently being a bad, bad man, even if he doesn't remember any of it. When Dolarhyde hears about Percy's arrest and Jake being in town, he rushes home to confront the sheriff. A surprisingly interesting battle of wills commences, until aliens happen.
|Two plausible reactions to aliens happening|
Yep, the titular aliens appear in flying machines, blow some stuff up, kidnap random people, and kill anybody who gets in their way. This would make modern men scramble, much less someone from the 1870s. I mean, it would make most men scramble, unless they happen to be Harrison Ford and Daniel Craig.
|To broaden the appeal of this film, assless chaps were seriously considered.|
The acting in this movie is a lot better than it deserves to be. After all, this is a genre mash-up that, logically, shouldn't work. It's surprisingly fun, though. Daniel Craig does his scowling bad-ass thing again; I would have liked to see him show off a little more of his charm, but this is a movie about cowboys fighting aliens, so I guess deep characters are probably not on the menu. I didn't love Harrison Ford in this movie, but I didn't hate him, either. In the beginning, he does a pretty good job of playing a bastard, but his performance was missing a crucial extra bit to make it awesome; later, his character softens and falls back into Ford's more comfortable likeable-but-kind-of-gruff territory. I would have liked to see him enjoy his mean moments more, though. At least his hat wasn't too reminiscent of Indiana Jones, right?
|Are they rebooting the City Slickers franchise?|
|Where do you get your eyebrows done in a one-horse town?|
This is Jon Favreau's first directorial effort after making blockbusters Iron Man 1 & 2. How did it turn out? Well, I have to admit that Favreau could definitely make a good, old fashioned Western if he wanted to. I was shocked at how engaging I found the alien-free Western scenes. As for the movie as a whole, well...it's kind of silly. Luckily, the title clued me in on that possibility, so I wasn't surprised. I thought the action scenes were pretty good (seeing horses flying in the air is oddly amusing) and I liked how he handled the main actors and characters. It did seem a little piecemeal, though. Sure, that makes sense, since you are shoe-horning aliens into a Western, but a lot of the characters felt like they were simply tacked on (the Apaches, the thieves, Adam Beach, etc.) and didn't feel like organic parts of this story. Favreau made the very best alien/cowboy movie possible, but there was a lot going on in a film that would have benefited from simplicity. Hell, this might have been a better movie without the aliens.
Overall, Cowboys & Aliens manages to succeed more than a movie of this type (or name) should. It is an entertaining blend of sci-fi and Westerns, where tough actors get to act tough and we see lots and lots of people get killed by aliens. Seriously, it seems like a hundred people die, and yet there always appears to be about a dozen or so survivors. I wouldn't call this a great movie or an unequivocal success, but it is fun and I always like seeing a quality Western, even if it is just in the first fifteen minutes of the movie. I was hoping for greatness, though, and this film falls a little short --- primarily because the alien plot trampled over the cooler tough guy Western story. Whatever. I saw cowboys, I saw aliens, and I saw lots die on both sides. The movie lived up to its title, at the very least.