Daniel Craig as Jake Lonergan
Harrison Ford as Woodrow Dolarhyde
Clancy Brown as Meacham
Paul Dano as Percy Dolarhyde
Chris Browning as Jed Parker
Adam Beach as Nat Colorado
Sam Rockwell as Doc
Ana de la Reguera as Maria
Noah Ringer as Emmett Taggart
Brian Duffy as Deputy
Olivia Wilde as Ella Swenson
Keith Carradine as Sheriff John Taggart
Abigail Spencer as Alice
Buck Taylor as Wes Claiborne
Matthew Taylor as Luke Claiborne
Cooper Taylor as Mose Claiborne
Kenny Call as Greavey
Walton Goggins as Hunt
Julio Cedillo as Bronc
David O’Hara as Pat Dolan
Directed by Jon Favreau
Daniel Craig, Harrison Ford, and the supporting cast make “Cowboys & Aliens” a fun popcorn flick worth checking out. The combination of Western and sci-fi work great together thanks to Jon Favreau hitting the right tone.
When a stranger wakes up in the middle of New Mexico in 1873, he has no memory of his past. The only clue he has is a strange metal band clamped to his wrist. The stranger wanders into the town of Absolution and quickly runs afoul of the local cattle baron’s son. Making matters worse, he discovers that he’s a wanted outlaw. But all of that doesn’t matter anymore when the stranger discovers the real reason behind his amnesia and a variety of other strange occurrences around the area aliens.
“Cowboys & Aliens” is rated PG-13 for intense sequences of western and sci-fi action and violence, some partial nudity and a brief crude reference.
“Cowboys & Aliens” certainly wears its intentions on its sleeve. It intends to be a fun genre mash-up and that’s exactly what it is. If there was any question whether you could blend a Western with a sci-fi premise, consider the question answered. They can go together like chocolate and peanut butter. That’s thanks in large part to director Jon Favreau hitting the tone just right. They play it completely straight, yet amid the reality based premise Favreau and company still manage to inject the right amount of humor to let you know they’re not taking everything too seriously. It’s an incredibly fine line between becoming parody and being overly serious, yet Favreau does it seemingly effortlessly.
While I came for the aliens, I have to admit that I stayed for the cowboys. This movie belongs to Daniel Craig. He exudes cool in every frame of the film and perfectly nails the ‘stranger with no name’ from classic Westerns. Not only does he have the look of Steve McQueen or Paul Newman, but he brings the grittiness to “Cowboys & Aliens” that he brought to James Bond. His fights are brutal, bloody, and they will make you cringe. You start to think Craig might actually be getting beaten up.
Craig is well-teamed with Harrison Ford. While seeing Indiana Jones teamed with James Bond on the big screen is enough to make a geek swoon, the two make you forget their iconic characters and you start seeing just Dolarhyde and Lonergan. Ford fans might be disappointed that he doesn’t get as much screen time as Craig, but Ford makes up for quantity with quality. He has some great scenes with Noah Ringer as Emmett Taggart and Adam Beach as Nat Colorado. One scene where he tells a story from his youth to Emmett is arguably one of the more memorable scenes in Ford’s recent career. It’s surprising to see Harrison Ford willing to share the spotlight with Daniel Craig, but in the end they both come out looking better for it.
I have to give credit to Favreau and writers Roberto Orci, Alex Kurtzman, and Damon Lindelof they handled this large ensemble cast well. Every character on the screen gets some moment to shine and win audiences over. Sam Rockwell gets to provide a lot of comic relief as Doc and he brings much needed laughs whenever the story gets too serious. I was also really impressed by Paul Dano as Percy Dolarhyde. He’s great at playing the spoiled son of Woodrow and he and Craig are hilarious in every single scene they have together. Dano wasn’t on my radar screen before this movie, but he is now. Clancy Brown, Adam Beach, Olivia Wilde, Noah Ringer, and Walton Goggins are all memorable, too.
As far as the aliens go, we actually don’t see a lot of them in the movie. When we do see them, their design is pretty good, but you won’t see people dressed as them at next year’s San Diego Comic-Con. They don’t have a landmark design like a Giger Alien or a Winston Predator. That being said, they do the job of providing a few scares here and there and they are lethal and powerful without being invincible. And their motivations for being are Earth are interesting, too. One of my first questions about this movie was how the creators were going to make it believable that a bunch of primitive cowboys could go toe to claw with space-faring aliens, and they do manage to succeed.
On a final note, the score by Harry Gregson-Williams is pitch perfect and hits the right notes as far as a Western feel mixed with epic orchestral sounds. It’s one of the better scores of the summer.
What Didn’t Work:
If I had to nitpick about anything, it’s that the plot is somewhat predictable. If you were to guess how the movie would play out before seeing it, you would probably be pretty close if not spot on. The story is very linear in moving the characters from point A to point B. There are no real surprises here. It may be because the movie is playing out all of the Western tropes, you expect them to come well before they arrive. That being said, it’s still entertaining. It’s fun to see how the characters interact, how the fight scenes unfold, and the spectacle of the visual effects. A roller coaster is predictable, too, but it’s still fun.
There’s also one minor, nitpicky plot point that bugged me well after the movie was over. The heroes discover something in the New Mexico desert that simply shouldn’t be there. I don’t want to spoil it here, but it’s obvious that the aliens put it there. How and why is never really explained. It seemed to be there simply to make an interesting visual.
The Bottom Line:
“Cowboys & Aliens” is a great summer popcorn flick. It has cool effects, cool stars, and a fun plot. It’s well worth checking out on the big screen.