Note: We’ve republished Germain’s earlier Cowboys & Aliens Review below:
The best thing to be said about Cowboys & Aliens is that it looks beautiful. For a film that attempts to infuse sci-fi elements in a traditional western, traditional western fans – and sci-fi fans too – will recognize and feel comfortable with the iconic look of the director Jon Favreau‘s film. Beyond that though, Cowboys & Aliens is the cinematic equivalent of a flatline. A lifeless film that’s criminally plot driven and filled with surface characters, underdeveloped relationships and plot holes the size of the Wild Wild West. But, hey, at least it looks good.
Cowboys & Aliens stars Daniel Craig as Jake Lonergan, a mysterious man who wakes up in the desert with no memory and a weird bracelet on his arm. He stumbles into town and butts heads with Woodrow Dolarhyde, played by Harrison Ford. Dolarhyde has a history with Lonergan but before we can learn much about it, a group of aliens attack the town. The bracelet turns out to be a weapon powerful enough to combat the kidnapping aliens and so begins the quest to find a bunch of townsfolk who were taken during the invasion.
In casting these two leading men, Favreau obviously had a legitimate agenda. Both Craig and Ford come with a very impressive backlog of manly, iconic roles that have made them icons themselves. Unfortunately, the film rests solely on those precious laurels. It’s almost as if we’re supposed to see James Bond and Indiana Jones in these characters, but it doesn’t work that way. Instead the performances are both overly stoic and almost totally devoid of personality. Neither ever distinguishes themselves as an individual and the film suffers mightily for it. Over the course of their shared alien hunt, we’re never even given any real meaty moments between the two. Instead, the film is only concerned with getting from point A to B.
Of course, there are attempts at some semblance of character development. We get elements of each character’s back story and some explanations of things, but the screenplay by Roberto Orci, Alex Kurtzman and a few others, constantly tells us these things instead of letting us figure them out for ourselves. Dolarhyde is a great war hero, but we don’t really see that in him. Lonergan was in love once, but that doesn’t seem to be part of his DNA. And you might think lack of character can be forgiven if the action scenes are exciting and epic but they’re not. The action is frequently confusing and never pops off the screen because the outcome always seems insignificant. It doesn’t help that the score by Harry Gregson-Williams fails to increase the tension or emotion. Instead we’re left with a film that unfolds in a daze, completely content with simply rushing to the next confrontation.
And so it goes on. And some weird things happen that tell us why the aliens are here, why Lonergan lost his memory, how he got the bracelet and all the other answers you seek after the first 20 minutes. None of these answers, however, are particularly cool, surprising or innovative. They might have been if we, at anytime, believed these aliens were threatening, found the characters compelling or the relationships believable, but none of that ever materializes. Instead, with no emotional attachment to the film you’re biggest thrill is dissection the numerous plot holes, which we won’t discuss here for spoiler reasons.
With such an amazing cast (I didn’t even mention Olivia Wilde, Sam Rockwell, Paul Dano, Keith Carradine and others) and crew (in addition to Favreau, the film is produced by Steven Spielberg, Ron Howard and Brian Grazer) the fact that Cowboys & Aliens feels dead on arrival is one of the biggest disappointments of the year. It has a few blips but should have been better. Much better. But, hey, at least it looks good.
/Film Rating: 3 out of 10