Monday, August 1, 2011

Cowboys & Aliens Review

Based on the kind of moviegoer you are, you either heard the title of this movie and scoffed or giggled with excitement. I admit to being firmly in the “giggle with excitement” camp and have been looking forward to this movie for a good long while. The premise, the actors, the writers, the producers, the director – all appeal greatly to me. So in the end did they pull it off?
Well…let me start by saying that if you were a “scoffer”, then this flick’s is not for you. That’s because this movie is exactly what it says it is. Cowboys being Cowboys. Aliens being Aliens. Cowboys killing Aliens. Aliens killing cowboys. If that’s not your bag, then you’re probably reading this blog by accident anyway. Gigglers please continue.

Spoilers ahead!

“Cowboys” starts out as a full-blown western. Our only glimpse of the impending sci-fi is the carved, metal bracelet around our amnesiac hero, Daniel Craig’s left wrist. Although we don’t know who he is or where he came from in the start of the movie, he’s established very quickly as a complete bad ass. We’ve only known him for a few moments before he kick the ever-living you-know-what out of three dudes trying to turn him in for bounty money. Then he takes off for the town of Absolution with their clothes, a horse and their dog on a collision course with…..more cowboys. No aliens yet.  Well, OK…just one, but more on that later.
Paul Dano gets it all rolling with his terrific portrayal of Percy Dolarhyde (Harrison Ford’s kid in the movie). What makes him so good? Well, you hate him with the fire of a 1,000 white hot suns within the first 3 seconds of meeting him. He’s an ignorant, entitled little prick and his stupidity gets our still nameless hero (Craig) wrapped up in the events of the town. In these early scenes, we’re also introduced to all of the other cowboys we’ll need to know: Doc (Sam Rockwell), Meachem (Clancy Brown), Sheriff Taggart (Keith Carradine), his grandson Emmett ( Noah Ringer), Nat (Adam Beach) and one cowgirl: Ella (Olivia Wilde).  Everyone brings their A-game to their role (ok maybe not Wilde). Nonetheless, you find yourself caring for this bunch right from the beginning. Mainly because of their unified disdain for Percy.
In this first scene lies the main recurring theme of this story. People from all different backgrounds coming together against one common foe. Here they’re victimized by Percy as he shoots up the town, but everyone (audience included) is unified in their feelings toward him. This happens again and again as the movie progresses – bigger and bigger alliances being forged each time.
By the time we meet Harrison Ford's Colonel Dolarhyde, we already know his reputation - he’s the only rich man in the town, he’s a bastard and we hate his son, but because he’s portrayed by Harrison, there’s also an instant likability about him. I challenge you not to pretend he’s an aging, earthly version of Han Solo at least once. You can’t do it (and if you can we're clearly very different people).
It’s around this time that people start to notice that Daniel Craig’s face is up on wanted signs around town. His name? Bond, James….I mean…Jake Lonergan (sorry for that one). Well, Lonergan stole a mess of gold from Dolarhyde at one point, so Dolarhyde is pleased to find out that Jake has resurfaced. He and his gang roll into Absolution to take him, but E.T. has other plans.

The aliens first appear as what looks like a line of torches coming down the hills toward the town. It's a fantastic moment as these silent lights slowly approach and suddenly begin to reign hell on Absolution. The scene is chaotic and desperate as the alien ships begin to lasso the victims and zip them up into the air; an abduction with their own version of the traditional cowboy rope. The scene is fast moving and noisy, but you never lose focus on what's happening to the people. When someone is taken, you usually know who they are and who they're related to in the story. This makes the scene nice and unnerving. As you've undoubtedly seen in the trailer, Lonergan puts an end to the attack with his fancy new arm gun and all of the townspeople set out to get their people back.

Their journey takes them to all kinds of interesting places and the aliens are a fairly constant threat. The pacing is terrific. The movie does slow down at times, but only for well-acted and interesting moments between the characters. It has the kind of pacing that will give this movie great rewatchabilty. Personally, I enjoyed every scene with Ford in it immensely. A few times I worried that they might shortchange him and not give him enough to do, but his contributions near the end of the movie put all of this to rest quickly. So yes, overall a very good flick that will definitely go into the rotation on my blu-ray player someday soon.

What could I have done without? Most of Olivia Wilde's character. She just kind of there in the beginning, being mysterious, not telling Lonergan or the audience anything. It got old reeeeeal fast. Then, once she does start to share her secrets, her whole deal is pretty contrived. You see...she's another alien from another planet and her people were wiped out by the same aliens that are here to kill 'em some cowboys. Just pretty unnecessary stuff other than for providing some inside knowledge about the aliens.

Also, the whole space-faring monsters that all movie aliens have become recently is getting old. I'd would love for us to get back to the fantastic creepiness that "Fire in the Sky" and even "Signs" delivered on. No more mini-"Cloverfields". I'm looking at you too, "Super 8" (as good as you were).

I won't give away all of its surprises, and I'll even hold back on some of the better moments because I really want others to enjoy this movie the way that I did. Overall, it's a solid B+ movie that I'll watch incessantly upon it's blu-ray release. It doesn't have the depth of something like "Close Encounters" or "Super 8," but it definitely has the fun.

I mean c'mon, it stars cowboy James Bond and Han Solo killing big nasty aliens. In the end, isn't that what we all really want?

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