Release Date: July 29, 2011
Running Time: 118 mins

A fantastic movie, brilliant cast, great script, and a perfect blend of special effects. Cowboys & Aliens really isn’t an alien movie. In fact, the aliens have kind of a small part, and that’s one reason why this movie works.

It’s the story of people from a small western town. Like most generic westerns, there’s a stranger with no memory, a cattle rancher who runs the town, his spoiled son, oppressed town folk, a mysterious woman, and a crime. The crime just happens to be someone abducting the town’s people. The reluctant stranger joins a posse to find the missing and their abductors. The abductors could easily have been a rival cattle rancher or Indians, but this is a Jon Favreau film, and his abductors are aliens.

Another reason for success is brilliant casting, Daniel Craig (Jake Lonergan), Harrison Ford (Colonel Woodrow Dolarhyde), Olivia Wilde (Ella Swenson), Sam Rockwell (Doc), Clancy Brown (Meacham), and Keith Carradine (Sheriff John Taggert). All the actors play their roles straight. No camp, no hysterics, no “this can’t be happening,” no one screaming “aliens!” The focus is the story of losing loved ones and how the people deal with it. They don’t really care who or what took their families, they just want them back alive. There just happens to be several minutes with aliens.

The script works by using its comical retorts in just the right places, not too much, but just enough to lighten the story, and none of it having to do with the aliens. For the most part the script is serious and takes advantage of Craig and Ford as the leads, or maybe it’s the other way around. Craig and Ford seem to enjoy being foes, using minimal banter and a lot of stare downs. The script also gives us many mysteries; the shackle on Jake's wrist, his past, who is he? Who is Ella, why is she interested in Jake (like she needs a reason)? Who took the town's people?

The director, Jon Favreau, also uses the perfect marriage of animatronics and CGI. Favreau takes us back to the great movies that use puppeteers and animatronics, while also mixing ground breaking digital effects. That also applies to his clever directing. He could just show us the creatures from the beginning, have them jump out and start grabbing people, trying the shock factor. But that would have blown the movie. Sure we want to see what the aliens look like, but again, that’s not the major part of the movie. Instead, we see strange lights in the sky. Then a mechanical flying machine, a shadow of a long arm, noises in the dark. All this builds the suspense of just what are these creatures. Next we see a long-fingered, clawed hand, then, finally, the creature.

The suspense continues throughout the entire 118 minutes. For example, in the bar scene, lawmen ask Jake to come with them. Jake, who really doesn’t say much in the movie, just leans back and waits; no sounds, no dialog. After a long minute or two, a lawman twitches and Craig reacts.

Cowboys and Aliens is not a scary horror movie. Favreau uses a perfect blend of all his resources to make a suspenseful, entertaining, light-hearted movie that all ages will enjoy.

1 comment:

  1. Nice review. When you go to see a movie called ‘Cowboys and Aliens,’ you don’t expect high art, and that’s fine by us. But if the film itself has problems with taking itself too seriously, that spells trouble, mainly because when you have five writers that’s never a good sign. Still somewhat fun entertainment. Check out my review when you can!


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