A group of towns people are abducted by Aliens who are intent on stealing our planets gold. Cowboys and Aliens features a stellar cast that includes Harrison Ford, Daniel Craig, Olivia Wilde and Sam Rockwell. On paper then, Cowboys and Aliens should be a fun, action packed B movie.
As it turns out, I enjoyed the first third of the film, which plays out like a classic Western. Harrison Ford does his gruff thing well and Daniel Craig is superb as the ruthless, yet sensitive tough guy. Then the aliens turn up and start shooting up the towns folk, and the film falls apart.
For one thing, the aliens have flying ships which scoop people up, but they can’t shoot straight or even hit static targets. Later on when we do meet the aliens, the CG creations fail to blend with the practical effects and just don’t cut it as characters. They are just amorphous blobs to be shot at. When you look at what Neill Blomkamp achieved with creature design in District 9 on a tiny budget, such failings are pretty surprising.
What’s really annoying about the film is how it’s directed. Jon Favreau has loads of scenes with the actors posing, or silhouetted against a sunset. It feels false and artificial, there is a blandness and lack of conviction that grates.
While we’re on the subject of artificiality, did Daniel Craig’s trousers need to be quite so thin and tight around his manly buns? For a PG13, we also get to see about as much naked Olivia Wilde as the director could get away with. Both of these people are beautiful enough, without the enforced titillation that the director employs.
I think that the director and cinematographer got together and went over the script looking for excuses to find some scenes where they could focus on Craig’s pectoral manboobs. The other default being to instead focus on Harrison Ford’s scowl.
I also had a problem with some of the line-readings, many of which felt like a first run through. Particularly poor is Olivia Wilde, who’s like a deer stuck trapped in the headlights. For most of the film, she has a fixed wide, blank eyed stare and can’t hold her own in scenes with Ford or Craig.
But what’s really irritating is that the film just isn’t any fun. Only Harrison Ford gets to impart a slight amount of camp silliness in his slightly over the top performance at the beginning of the film.
The plot is pretty bonkers, not surprising in such as film, but there are random ideas that had potential if only they’d been developed further. There’s a Christ metaphor in there as a character returns to life and an overall theme of unity and tolerance as Cowboys and Indians cooperate against a common enemy. There’s also a redemption theme to Daniel Craig’s character that should have been the central tenet of the movie.
With a better script, a lighter tone and a better director then – the film could have been a lot of fun. Sadly, what we have here is a film that squanders a stellar cast and a significant budget. disappointing.