Tuesday, September 13, 2011

Cowboys & Aliens (2011)


Yeah, I definitely liked it.  Granted, I knew I would.  They had me from "Cowboys & Aliens."  Actually, they had me from "Directed by Jon Favreau."  I thoroughly enjoyed Iron Man and Elf, and Favreau has always struck me as someone with skill who genuinely loves the nerdy stuff he makes movies about.  There's a self-awareness and humor there that is often lacking in Hollywood (or so it seems).  The addition of Indiana Jones, James Bond (sort of), and Sam Rockwell, with Ron Howard and Steven Spielberg producing, were icing on the cake.

Plus it is such a fun idea.  And clever, too.  I mean, if aliens exist, why would they have to wait for the present (or the future) to make contact?  Why not pay a visit to earth during the days of the Old West?  It's exactly the kind of idea little boys have dreamed of for decades--Woody and Buzz, together for real!

Not that it was just a lark.  Honestly, it was more serious than I expected, and it took itself a bit seriously.  People go to a movie like Cowboys & Aliens expecting to have fun.  Too much solemnity, and people get restless.  Still, Favreau seemed to walk a pretty fine line between comedic spoof and deadly serious action film.  It helps a lot that Harrison Ford makes a great crotchety old guy, and Daniel Craig makes a better cowboy than he ever did a James Bond (sorry to those who love Craig's Bond, but  . . . I just can't).  Where Bond is supposed to be suave, debonair, cocky, and self-assured, Craig's Lonergan is a man of few words, acting swiftly and efficiently without wasted energy or conversation.  I was reminded of Brad Pitt's character in Ocean's Eleven--a character often defined by his silence more than his dialogue.  Lonergan is just such a character.  Yet Craig plays him with enough skill that the audience gets a real sense of his personality, his temperament, his fibre--the essence of who he is comes across without the benefit of lengthy discussion or speechifying.  And it works.  Well.

Craig has undeniable chemistry with Ford, and the looks shared by the two actors are some of the most satisfying and humorous moments in the film, even--or perhaps especially--when unaccompanied by dialogue.  Wilde is sufficiently exotic looking for the role she has to play, but I don't really get the hype around her, so it's hard for me to judge her performance objectively.  Sam Rockwell, who was cast (as a doctor-turned-bartender out of his element in the Wild West) after he expressed interest in the film is sadly rather wasted.  The other supporting actors do a solid enough job: Paul Dano turning in a memorable performance as the utterly loathesome son of the local cattle baron.  Noah Ringer is an appropriately wide-eyed foil for Ford's rough exterior (and the recipient of such friendly gestures as Ford's Dolarhyde is capable of mustering).  Walton Goggins makes the most of his screentime as a bandit who would not seem out of place in an old Disney live-action film. 

The aliens are well done--creepy and sufficiently different from and similar to humanoids to make them sufficiently unnerving.  The fight scenes are quite visceral and well executed.  I was intrigued by the novelty of pitting aliens against cowboys (and Indians) on horseback.  We're so used to seeing space ships and lasers that the broad daylight, bone crunching battles at the movie's climax were something quite new and different.

All in all, it was more intense than I'd expected, and not quite brilliant, but I still enjoyed it.  The good news is, with a title like Cowboys & Aliens, you probably know going in whether you'll like the movie.

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