Cowboys & Aliens (2011)


  
Rating: 3 out of 5
Rated: PG13

 
Reviewer: Rissi C.
 
Never in a million years did I imagine myself watching this unusual movie but that is exactly what I found myself doing on a lazy Sunday afternoon.
 
He wakes in the middle of the desert and hasn’t a memory of how he got there or why he has been wounded. Encircled on his wrist is an odd metallic bracelet that won’t detach. All of these unknowns prompt Jake Lonergan (Daniel Craig) to rediscover his past. Nearly as soon as he awakens, a group of bandits appear on the scene, but Jake successfully disarms them and helps himself to their clothes and a horse. Riding into the nearest town, the stranger is stitched up by the local preacher and in a matter of hours attracts the interest of the locals after standing up to the wimpy, arrogant son (Paul Dano) of the man who owns and employs much of the town. As a result of this, his face is soon recognized by the Sheriff (Keith Carradine) who identifies him as a wanted man. Jake still has no recollection of what led up to his face being emblazed on a wanted poster but he soon learns that he isn’t just wanted by the law but also the man whose son he tangled with.

  

Woodrow Dolarhyde (Harrison Ford) is a Colonel from the war, and expects nothing but loyalty from his men and those who cross him aren’t given opportunity to do so again. When he gets word that his son is about to be handed over to marshals and that Jake is in town, he sees his chance to get back the gold that was stolen from him. Before anything can be settled, the town is attacked by flying machines that send the people running scared for their very lives. During the attack, the contraption on Jake’s arm comes to life and is used as a weapon against the machines but not before the beings snatch several of the residents -- including Woodrow’s only son. Certain that he knows something about these aliens and he will remember everything, the spitfire Ella (Olivia Wilde) wants Jake to help her find where they base their operations. Despite his denial, Jake’s flashbacks eventually haunt him… and Jake may not be the only one who has a secret. Woodrow all but demands Jake’s presence and assistance on their search party, knowing there is no earthly way they will defeat the monsters save for the weapon Jake possesses.
  
Sci-Fi movies are not my scene but someone loaned this to my dad and instead of choosing not to watch i8t, I sat down with him and went into this one with an open mind, having seen the trailers for it and recognizing it as a blockbuster from the summertime season. That being said, I really, really enjoyed it. It has a different twist to it by pairing cowboys with aliens (although Indians do make an appearance) and its acting isn’t half bad either. Some of the plots get caught up in redundancy but it was fun not knowing for sure whether or not the hero was one to root for because normally, the hero is (and the audience wants him to be) above reproach. That isn’t how it plays out here.
 
Tagged by the line “from the director of Iron Man” everything about Jon Favreau’s Cowboys and Aliens screamed that he was going to have another box office hit to include on his résumé. Since this was nominated for various different awards, I was somewhat surprised that the special effects were not always up to par. The aliens are definitely creepy looking (their chest opens to reveal organs and a pair of hands emerge) but I think any time productions blend supernatural and live-action, it is a challenge to make everything come across as real. The aliens terrify several people (they fasten them to a table and kill them) and attack the search party; there is an epic battle that climaxes in the final ten minutes; several people are killed -- the aliens bite into the flesh of their victim’s neck. Characters don’t go down without a fight though, they shoot their attackers (some right between the eyes). Men are impaled with stakes and Jake uses his weapon to burn a hole through a man’s middle. Another character dies, the body burns, and then the person walks out alive from the flames (obscurely, we see the person naked before quickly being covered); one person sacrifices their life. Fights break out and punches are thrown. Some profanity is used (sh*t and a couple of crudities); one man repeatedly calls a woman a whore.
 
What I liked best about the movie is its emphasis on trust and the relationships that come out of that. It is true that this band of characters was forged more out of necessity than a trusting nature but it becomes so much more than need, and forms into a “no man left behind” kind of friendship. The scope lends itself to not be taken seriously because of the subject matter but I enjoyed the story tremendously. It is the very definition of “popcorn flick” and as such, viewers should let this entertain by that definition. Cowboys and Aliens may not be one I’ll be likely to buy, but for a winter afternoon, it doesn’t get much more fun that this trip to the Wild West.