Will finish the Alien series soon but I’m finding it tough to summon the willpower to sit through Resurrection. I know what’s coming and I ain’t in a hurry to get there. Here’s a new film to distract me:
Cowboys & Aliens (2011)
Of all the releases this summer, Cowboys & Aliens looked the most likely to be a knockabout fun romp. It’s got a ridiculous premise, that ridiculous title, the director of insanely enjoyable Iron Man behind it and it had a good trailer, promising big effects and explosions. I often talk about films getting mixed reviews, but the ratings of Cowboys & Aliens are polar opposites. So what’s the definitive answer? I’m not quite arrogant enough to dogmatically tell you, however, I can do what I always do and post my thoughts below like they mean something.
“Whether you end up in Heaven or Hell isn’t God’s plan, it’s your own. You just have to remember what it is.”
The year is 1873. We open in the outback where a man, bearing a striking resemblance to Daniel Craig, wakes up with a wounded side, a fancy, futuristic bracelet on his wrist and plot-convenient amnesia. He moseys on into the nearest town, Absolution, which is practically run by grizzled, grouchy sonuvvabitch Woodrow Dolarhyde (Harrison Ford). Soon, the amnesiac discovers his name is Jake Lonergan and he’s wanted by local law enforcement. Not only that, but Lonergan starts flashing back to being abducted by “demons” (disproving my initial explanation for his injury, strange, gaudy wristwear and memory loss being that he’d attended a Scouse wedding) .The “demons” attack Absolution and abduct a few of the townsfolk, causing Lonergan, Dolarhyde and most of the surviving townspeople including the mysterious Ella (Olivia Wilde) and town bartender Doc (Sam Rockwell) to saddle up and pursue those alien bastards. The story is solid, but not what I was expecting. The film plays everything with a more serious edge than I anticipated. I thought Daniel Craig was decent- although his ‘merican accent kept distracting me. Harrison Ford was also good as Dolarhyde. He was mostly playing himself, but the character is surprisingly unsympathetic. I liked Olivia Wilde and Sam Rockwell too, but this paragraph’s gone on for way too long.
To be honest, I think that the film’s biggest weakness is the title itself. “Cowboys & Aliens” sounds like a parodic title like Snakes on a Plane or Lesbian Vampire Killers. I realise it’s based on a comic book series of the same name, but I think the combination of the title coupled with the trailer is selling the film short. The opening 20 minutes or so could have easily been the start of a modern Western. We have the outsider coming into town, we meet the town preacher and bartender along the way and the outsider sorts out a town problem in the form of Paul Dano and his gang (I was actually a bit disappointed with Paul Dano- I wanted him to be a proper baddie, but he turns into his go-to role of a whiny bitch before too long. It’s a good trick, I just wish he wouldn’t do it in every film I’ve seen him in.). Then the aliens show up and the film turns into the odd genre mashup that it is. I actually find the concept to be really interesting. I’m sick of aliens invading modern day Earth, blowing up famous landmarks and the like. Cowboys & Aliens both asks and answers the question “What the shit would happen if aliens invaded the Old West?”. At the very least you can give it points for originality.
The film’s more character driven than I was expecting. It purposefully takes its time with getting to know the inhabitants of Absolution before the extra-terrestrial shite hits the fan. There were a couple of really feckin’ obvious signposted subplots early doors that annoyed me slightly. For instance, if you cannot guess what ultimately happens to the character of Doc, after it has been made abundantly clear that he cannot shoot a rifle accurately, you have not seen a piece of populist entertainment for the past 30 years. I thought the effects were good and thankfully used sparingly. The action was also decent, with a huge battle between alien scout ships and horse mounted cowboys being my personal highlight, although I must say some of the early Craig fistfighting was really enjoyable too. The fighting is a lot more visceral than the 12A certificate might suggest. It’s not a kids’ movie. If they’re not scarred by the violence, they’ll be bored by the dialogue-heavy slower scenes.
“Demons took your gold. When you get to Hell, you can ask for it back.”
I can see why Cowboys & Aliens is dividing opinion. It plays the ludicrous central idea dead-straight and rather po-faced, which I get the feeling may turn off some people. I really enjoyed it for what it was. I got a real kick out of the clash of the genres, was entertained by the leads and was impressed with the action. It’s an odd film, but it features my new favourite thing – a dynamite knife. I simply can’t think of a better way to say “fuck you” to an alien invader than stabbing them with a knife that will then blow up. Whilst I half wish the film had just simply been a modern Western starring Craig and Ford, I think that Favreau did a damn good job in taking on a strange property and having the nads to play it serious. It definitely won’t be for everyone, but it was for me.