A few months ago, if you had asked me which of the summer blockbusters I was looking forward to the most, I would have answered with no hesitation at all, Jon Favreau’s Cowboys and Aliens. There are quite a few reasons for this but the three chief ones, in no particular order, are: Harrison Ford, aliens, cowboys. Actually, I think that order is fine.
So picture the scene – the movie I’ve longed to see the most this summer, an afternoon spent at the press conference sitting in front of The Man himself (reports on Bleeding Cool here and here) and then a prize spot on the red carpet, meeting the stars, and then the film itself, introduced by Favreau, Ford, Craig and Wilde, including one bizarre moment when Harrison Ford knelt before Daniel Craig to tie his shoelace (see picture below). That’s an awful lot to live up to.
And it didn’t. But that doesn’t make Cowboys and Aliens a bad film, it just means it could have been better.
The film opens with a man with no name (Daniel Craig), who has a wound in his side, a strange contraption on his wrist and an ability to kill. Having done some of the latter, he heads in to town where he meets the local bullying rich man’s son, Percy Dolarhyde (Paul Dano), who recognises him as Jake Lonergan. That’s when the trouble starts. Matters aren’t helped by the arrival of Percy’s father, the angry and bitter Colonel, Woodrow Dolarhyde (Harrison Ford), and a bunch of alien space ships that lasso all and sundry, including the wife of the brave and honourable Doc (Sam Rockwell). It’s not long before the good, the bad, the ugly and the beautiful join together to go out into the desert and take their people back.
The problem with Cowboys and Aliens is also one of its strengths. The cowboy element is great. Harrison Ford’s character Woodrow is fascinating and complex – what has happened to him to make him this hostile? What happened to his family? It’s impossible not to be drawn to him as we learn more about him from the men who would lay down their lives for him. Jake (Craig) also has much to recommend him and he looks the part indeed, although I’m not sure exactly which way he was playing the role. Not humorous and not quite serious either. The difference with Harrison Ford, who knows exactly what he’s doing here, is slightly frustrating. Sam Rockwell is excellent, largely because he’s not able not to be.
Watching the development of the western element of the film, led by Harrison Ford and Daniel Craig, it’s difficult not to become absorbed in it. The problem comes with the aliens. Characters stop developing, the story stops evolving and Olivia Wilde’s character Ella stops being even the slightest bit believable. She takes her clothes off in one of the most gratuitous taking her clothes off scenes I’ve witnessed in quite a while.
However, despite the rude interruption of the nasties from space, Cowboys and Aliens looks wonderful and one can hardly complain about the acting. I love alien movies but here I was enjoying the western setting so much I would have preferred to stick with a good cowboy story with Harrison Ford and Daniel Craig. Or, if it comes to it, a good alien story. One or the other.
This film has a great concept and I liked the vision and the ambition of it. If only I hadn’t been expecting so much from it. However, Harrison Ford as a cowboy with attitude and an itchy shooting finger? Yep, worth seeing for that alone. Great title, too.