Thursday, 18 August 2011

Cowboys & Aliens - Review

It sounds ridiculous on paper,  it must be a comedy, right?  Well apart from a few well delivered lines Cowboys and Aliens is about as far away from the kooky title as you could get.  Indeed possibly the biggest shock of the whole thing is just how straight it's played.

That it works at all is down to director Jon Favreau and his excellent cast.  Daniel Craig is taking things very seriously as a man who wakes up somewhere in the Wild West with a strange bracelet on his wrist and no memory of who he is.  He wanders into a near by town, finding help for a wound in his side but eventually gets recognised as a wanted criminal after a spat with a spoilt local.

He winds up behind bars after nearly escaping, knocked out cold by a mysterious woman played by Olivia Wilde.  He's about to be taken away with the local boy he's bickered with but just as the boy's father (Harrison Ford) turns up demanding his son's release Alien spaceships arrive, start abducting people and blowing the crap out of the small town.  It sounds ridiculous but there's some nice human reaction to loved ones being taken, including Ford's son.  The town folk, once it turns out Craig's bracelet is a weapon, decide to track one of the Aliens that he's managed to shoot down.

In the moments when there aren't any Aliens present the film feels like a straight Western.  Lovingly shot and with Ford and Craig leading the show, it sits just right.  Ford in particular looks like he's loving every second and has most of the best lines.  Craig does a great job of conveying a man trying to figure out who the hell he is while hell bent on chasing down the Alien.  Wilde's character is not as strong but once the film has played through to the end you sort of get why and her performance is on a par with the two male leads.  Sam Rockwell adds weight to an excellent supporting cast.

Where the movie stumbles is with the Aliens.  Although the CGI is good and the design relatively creepy, they're a bit anonymous.  We simply don't see enough of them to get a sense of how dangerous they are and although we're told fairly early on what they're here for it's all pretty standard stuff.  Which seems like a shame in a movie that in so many other respects is a bit of a gem.  That said the last half hour races along and is well worth your time.

As a Western it works brilliantly.  As a Sci-Fi movie, it hits the beats, but doesn't shine.  Luckily it's more Western than Sci-Fi.
★★★☆☆