Cowboys & Aliens

Directed By: Jon Favreau

Starring: Daniel Craig, Harrison Ford, and Olivia Wilde

The idea of combining the Wild West and outer space in a film is just so crazy that it could have worked.  With names like Steven Spielberg, Ron Howard, and Jon Favreau behind Cowboys & Aliens, we should have expected great things from the film.  An even better case could be made for the movie given that it's starring Daniel Craig and Harrison Ford.  Unfortunately, the film does not live up to its hype and the reputations of the A-listers behind it.  Cowboys & Aliens is a good idea with great talent — on and off screen — drowned in bad filmmaking.

Jake Lonergan  (Daniel Craig) is a man who does not remember what he's done or who he is, but he remembers how to fight for some reason.  He awakens badly wounded in an Arizona desert.  He makes his way to the nearest town for help and finds himself in a place called Absolution.  There, he receives some medical attention from  Meacham (Clancy Brown), the local preacher.  Later, he kicks the annoying and tyrannical Percy Dolarhyde's (Paul Dano) butt.

The momentary hero soon finds himself in a quandary when the town's sheriff realizes that Lonergan is a wanted man for a long list of crimes.  Along with Lonergan, Dolarhyde is locked up because he shot a deputy during their scuffle.  Colonel Woodrow Dolarhyde (Harrison Ford), Percy's dad, learns of the events and comes to town to save his son and capture Lonergan with whom he has previous bad blood. 

Upon the colonel's arrival in Absolution to take care of this business, he and the townspeople face an attack by aliens from outer space.  Outmatched and outgunned by the aliens, many of the townspeople, including the colonel's son Percy, are captured and kidnapped.  In light of this calamity, Dolarhyde, Lonergan, and some other townspeople embark on a dangerous mission to save their friends and loved ones.

The one thing this film has going for it is the acting talents of it's cast.  With Daniel Craig and Harrison Ford, it has a dynamic duo of star power.  Having James Bond in the Wild West is a pretty good idea, but having him with Han Solo is an even better one.  Ford has been playing bitter old men for years.  Just check out his more recent films like Morning Glory or Extraordinary Measures for proof.  The Wild West is the perfect place for him to be as grumpy as he wants to be on screen.  Beyond these two megastars, there's a great supporting cast including Olivia Wilde, Sam Rockwell, Paul Dano, and Clancy Brown.

As great as these actors are, they don't arrive at greatness in Cowboys & Aliens because the filmmakers simply cannot juggle the Wild West and outer space.  Navigating between small town issues and alien invasions is no small task.  To do so successfully, the tone must shift drastically and smoothly many times throughout the film.  This is difficult to do for both the cast on screen and the crew off screen, and it shows.  Favreau cannot nimbly balance these two conflicting themes.  Consequently, the film just feels awkward at many points.

The weird tonal shifts throughout the film are not helped by the fact that there are major inconsistencies in the plot.  A great example of this is Olivia Wilde's character.  Ella Swenson, who is portrayed by Wilde, is an alien who somehow manages to travel to earth and take on a humanlike physical form.  Her race was eliminated by the same aliens currently taking over the planet.  Additionally, she has healing abilities. All of this is introduced at random into the film to gradually lend credence to the preposterous notion that 19th century cowboys have a remote chance of challenging and defeating a highly advanced race of aliens.  Her character is really just a way to advance the story when the writers are unable to do it more skillfully.  Wilde's character is an example of bad writing at its best in the film.

When I first heard of Cowboys & Aliens, I was excited about the concept.  Given the tonal and thematic imbalances of the film, major plot inconsistencies, and many other poor filmmaking decisions, I am highly disappointed by the final product.  Cowboys & Aliens fails the Sobriety Test and gets a 0.09% rating.  Liquor up for this one!