Directed by Jon Favreau
Out on DVD and Blu-ray December 26
A blond man (Daniel Craig) wakes up in the desert in 1873 Arizona with no memory of who he is or why he’s there, but with a strange metal bracelet around one wrist. He makes his way to the small town of Absolution, where he stops the rampage of the idiotic son of the cattleman who owns the town, only to be rewarded with being thrown into jail alongside the youth. It seems he’s wanted robber Jake Lonergan, whether he knows it or not. Arriving in town to free his son is unlikable (but probably not corrupt) Colonel Woodrow Dolarhyde (Harrison Ford), who wants recompense from Lonergan for stealing his gold. However, before the stand-off can go too far, alien ships attack the settlement town, strafing the street and snatching up settlers and spiriting them away…
Those expecting the campfest that its title might inspire – or any semblance of the 2006 graphic novel that its name was derived from – will be disappointed in Cowboys & Aliens. So too will anyone expecting the snarky fun of Favreau’s Iron Man movies or Elf. Instead, Cowboys & Aliens is a grim and gritty Western film that just happens to drop aliens into the mix of steel-eyed gunslingers, bandits, miners, and the obligatory town preacher and saloon whore. It’s also one of Favreau’s most effective films to date, and a hell of a lot of fun.
Craig is as steely as ever in the co-lead role, not showing much colour in his performance, but the script demands that he is a cipher even to himself. Ford is awesome in his role, playing perhaps the least friendly character he’s ever essayed on screen. And Olivia Wilde is excellent as one of the few women in the film, standing her ground against the bigger stars and given some pretty awesome scenes to play. The rest of the cast is similarly strong, with Adam Beach as Dolarhyde’s assistant making the absolute strongest impression in a B-story that carries the film’s biggest emotional punch.
As a Western, Cowboys & Aliens looks appropriately drained of colours and windswept, so the scenes with the aliens – seamless but quick-moving in bright-daylight CGI – and their ship, as weird in its interior as it should be for non-humans, are effective and often dizzying. The script is lean and mean, and played with dead seriousness; I can’t actually recall any humour at all, excepting a few brief exchanges among outlaw gang members.
By assembling a stellar cast and letting them act out a sturdy script, Favreau was already miles ahead on Cowboys & Aliens, even before his sure-shot direction. There aren’t many cross-genre films that work as well as this one, and Wstern fans as well as sci-fi fans should feel appropriately electrified.
Verdict: Strong acting, gorgeous production, non-cliché script, and solid direction… Cowboys & Aliens is the lovechild of Westerns and science fiction you’ll never believe you’d like this much. 9/10
DVD and Blu-ray extras:
The Director’s Cut, featured on the Blu-ray, adds a few scenes into the body of the movie, none of which is really essential (and actually contributes to the film sagging a little in the middle) – not often, but on this occasion, the theatrical version is probably the way to go.
Of the extras, Favreau’s commentary (which is handily subtitled, and can therefore be read while watching the main movie) is the most interesting, as it seems with both this and Iron Man 2, he found himself in a position of filming quite a time before a script was really ready. There’s more than one mention of filming scenes in varying ways so that they could create the character in the editing room, which doesn’t say a lot about the clarity of the writing! The “making of” features are interesting, while Favreau’s conversations with his co-workers throw up a few fun nuggets. PS
Click here for our interview with Daniel Craig, Harrison Ford, Olivia Wilde, Jon Favreau and Roberto Orci
or here for our interview with Ana de la Reguera.