Movie Review: Cowboys & Aliens
By Matthew Huntley
August 3, 2011
Colonel Woodrow Dolarhyde (Ford) knows Lonergan and claims he stole his gold. Dolarhyde demands retribution and help locating his son, especially after Lonergan demonstrates the metal bracelet on his wrist is the only weapon that can fight the aliens in equal measure.
If the movie does a good job of setting itself up, it’s not as successful paying off. I mentioned how it’s loyal to the Western genre, but that’s not to say it does anything fresh or inspired with it. For the most part, the movie lives up to its name and is essentially just cowboys and aliens duking it out, which is okay, but not terribly exciting. I mean, it’s not like we haven’t seen aliens and humans fighting on-screen before. What Favreau has done is simply mix a classic Western with an alien invasion picture, and that’s about it. The aliens themselves are stock movie creatures and could have come from any science fiction or horror film. They’re not given much to do other than abduct people and use them for experiments (which is what aliens usually do in these types of movies). Their motives aren’t really explored and they function mostly as one-dimensional villains.
Much more interesting are the human dynamics taking place, but the movie seems to use these only as a backdrop for the action and not the other way around. It’s a shame, too, because the acting is so strong, especially the formidable Craig, who may be fulfilling his usual tough-guy role, but it’s one we can’t take for granted because he’s so good in it. He and Ford are well-matched here, each playing characters unwilling to budge and their shift from enemies to allies is taut and powerful. Wilde is good, too, showing she can be more than just eye candy.
If you’re a fan of the traditional Western or alien invasion movie, you should see Cowboys & Aliens. It is a solid, albeit standard, example of its two kinds, but it’s well made with strong, effective performances. And it knows what it is. However, if what you’re looking for is a movie that does more than just combine two stable genres into one and actually tries to do something bold and unique, Cowboys & Aliens leaves something to be desired. I admired it on a technical and acting level, and I appreciated how it defies the expectations of its own title by being more than just a silly popcorn movie, but I wasn’t always entertained by it. It’s sometimes slow and the more I realized it wasn’t going to attempt to push either of its genres’ envelopes, the less I cared about it as a whole. The movie is not what I expected, but it still left me wanting more.