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Cowboys & Aliens - Movie Review By A.D.Harris

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(taken from theadamharris.com)

If there is one thing you don't need to know about this film before you go into the cinema screen it is that it is about cowboys and it is also about aliens. With a title so literal and bizarrely unusual, it emerged early on in the advertising campaign that the cinema goers weren't totally sure what they would be paying for by watching a film called Cowboys & Aliens. It sounds much more humorous than serious yet was boasting an action packed trailer that sees Daniel Craig's mystery man finding himself in the mist of an assault on a cowboy settlement in 19th Century America. Perhaps it is such uncertainty that accounts for the films shake box office figures in the USA, but that is doing the film a disservice. Cowboys & Aliens deserves more attention than it has received.

The world created by John Favreau is visually stunning. Set in the deserts of New Mexico it is clear the direction Favreau has taken is to directly pull images from the comic book series with which it is based. Some shots look like art on screen, and it is these moments that capture the imagination the most. This is most evident during the first half of the film when Cowboys & Aliens takes its time creating the world, unfortunately it loses some of that visual quality once the storyline vamps up. The start however is at times quite slow, but it feels tense and the brooding skills of the entire cast builds this visual picture that has not been bettered throughout the summer season.

However at times the town of Absolution doesn't quite feel real enough to truly believe. There are several moments where its wooden bars, homes and sheriff offices feel a little too much like a set. They lack the hustle, the bustle and the tiny details that make it feel like it hasn't been lived in. It is a shame as it pulls you slightly out of world, yet when darkness begins to fall and the smaller details begin to disappear into the darkness Absolution becomes a much more believable place. It is at this point that Cowboys and Aliens finds its strongest section.

Up until this point the film had been largely Daniel Craig's vehicle. As dark as the direction he took Bond in Quantum of Solace, Craig's Jake Lonergan is rough, brutal and dangerous. Early on it becomes clear that Favreau is willing to take his characters and his scenes much darker than expected. Lonergan's introductory scene sets the mood for the rest of the film; it is gritty, bloody and packing plenty of punch. It is in roles like this that Craig is in his element and Lonergan is no exception. He's not as cool or sophisticated as Bond but he is much more reckless and dangerous and it is fun to see this wilder side to the persona Craig nails to a tee.

So as the sun sets and Lonergan's amnesiac hero finds himself jailed for a crime he doesn't remember committing, Harrison Ford's Colonel Dolarhyde catches wind that his most wanted fugitive is in town. Enter the man of the moment. It is a joy to watch Ford get back to the gritty, sarcastic and witty characters that highlight his long and brilliant career. It is clear that he is in his element as Dolarhyde, snarling out his older age drawl with panache and charm. It all helps build up to the moment that has slowly been lurking in the shadows; the moment when the aliens arrive.

A frenetic and exciting action sequence sees the mystery to who Craig truly is come to the forefront. The mysterious metallic bracelet on his arm manages to destroy one of the alien vessels but not before Absolution has lost many of its dwindling population. It is at this point that Craig and Ford finally meet, and the chemistry struck between the two is fun from the onset. Whether it is just the excitement of seeing James Bond and Indiana Jones share the same screen, but the pairing works just as well as it sounds like it would and it is this chemistry that makes Cowboys & Aliens tick.

That is not to say that the film works on every level though. With the title Cowboys & Aliens you expect to learn much more about the mysterious extra terrestrials as the film progresses but unfortunately what is fleshed out isn't as satisfying as it should be. The aliens themselves, whilst spooky and fun to watch in the dark, look a little too CGI'ed in the daylight for true believability. Considering how amazing it should be watching cowboys riding around on horses shooting at aliens it is a little disappointing that it doesn't manage to take the breath away.

The rest of the supporting cast all deliver strongly. Sam Rockwell's role of saloon owner Doc is the most featured, yet despite his comfort in the role his characters despair at his wife's kidnapping is bizarrely developed and as such his character feels uneven. More more solid throughout is Clancy Brown, Keith Carradine and Adam Beach who all slip into the time period as easy as if they were born there. It is often the lesser roles that help an audience member accept the world's realism and scope and in this regard Cowboys & Aliens has top actors doing what they are paid to do very well.

As Craig's character becomes less of a mystery and more of a standard hero Cowboys & Aliens looses its way. The answer to the mystery feels like an explanation I could have crafted before I had watched the film and he looses that edge that drove along his narrative in the film. Olivia Wilde, who also appears to know more about the aliens than meets the eye does well at increasing the sexiness that Craig and Ford can't provide but doesn't sufficiently fill the gap that this structural void leaves. It is through no fault of any of Cowboys & Aliens three leads that the film hits a real lull in its middle third, it is in fact a failing in the screenplay to find anything worthy of our attention during this time.

From here onwards the film swings from spellbinding highs to miserable lows from minute to minute. Favreau, whilst maintaining a strong visual quality throughout struggles to adapt to the shift between light hearted fun and gritty seriousness. A fantastic horror scene inside a shipwrecked boat begins gloriously tense but ends miserably gloomy. From this it flicks to a funeral scene that carries one too many jokes and feels out of place with what preceded it.

As the climax approaches Cowboys & Aliens finds itself on a high octane mad dash to save everyone and here it finds the fun, action and emotion that gets you back on the edge of your seat. This burst of energy makes the film's most clever and unexpected moment work all the better. There is clearly a strive to find something unique and different in its approach to the summer blockbuster and it is in the films biggest act of heroism that Cowboys & Aliens finds its pièce de résistance.

As the sun sets one last time and the two stars share a final scene together you will be able to just about look past Cowboys & Aliens shortcomings and accept it was fun, action packed and managed to maintain enough grit to avoid biting the dust.

One way of looking at it is this is likely to be one of the only times you get to see two iconic character actors joining forces to save the world. The film fan in all of us must dribble a little as that prospect.

But more importantly this definitely is the last time you will see a film with a title so ridiculously to-the-point and delivering exactly what it promises.

That promise is so simple, yet also genius in what it offers...

Cowboys... and aliens.



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