With a goofy title and an endearingly silly premise, Cowboys and Aliens, a motion picture based on the 2006 graphic novel, may sound like a bad joke. It revolves around a bunch of cowboys who fend off an alien attack, while finding assistance from bandits, Apaches, and a sole survivor from another alien species. Although the movie comes across as simplistic, its action and fairly absorbing narrative make it worth a watch.
Experienced actors like Keith Carradine, Clancy Brown and Walton Goggins have great screen presence and carry the narrative quite well, and performances by Olivia Wilde and Adam Beach are also more than adequate. The two actors who really steal the show are Daniel Craig (Jake Lonergan), who does a fine job of playing the pained heroic archetype and the seasoned Harrison Ford, who gives an excellent performance as the moody Colonel Woodrow Dolarhyde. Both protagonists are given enough backstory to endear them to the audience: outlaw Jake displays vulnerability in his quest to determine the fate of his missing love and Colonel Woodrow shows himself to be a noble spirit, with his bark clearly worse than his bite. The gritty set and costume design coupled with the acting and narrative, give the movie a nostalgic level of credence as a Western.
The entertaining action sequences are aided by some excellent special effects. The aliens look quite interesting — amphibious bear-like creatures with slimy hand-like appendages that slither creepily out of their abdomens. If the film has a glaring weakness, it is that the story-telling takes an exaggerated Bollywood feel towards the end: supporting characters die, giving long mournful monologues before they depart, with dramatic music in the background.
While promoting the film, director John Favreau spoke of wanting “to make a serious mix of the Western styles of Sergio Leone and John Ford and ‘really scary’ science fiction like Alien and Predator.” While this movie doesn’t quite rise to the excellence of those genre classics, it does enough right in terms of plot and action, to qualify as an entertaining movie.
Published in The Express Tribune, Sunday Magazine, October 2nd, 2011.