Wednesday, 24 August 2011

Cowboys and Aliens (2011)

When I first heard about Cowboys and Aliens I just assumed that it was the latest Pixar animation. Finding out that John Favreau was directing it piqued my interest; and upon discovering that Bond and Indy were it I became quite excited. Surely this couldn’t fail? Well, the critics have mostly lampooned this film; but I for one, found it very entertaining.

Daniel Craig’s character, Jake Lonergan, wakes up with a fancy new wristwatch, obviously not of this world. Very reminiscent of Bourne, he can’t remember anything. He slowly finds out that he is a wanted criminal; but before he can be taken away in the sheriff’s wagon, aliens attack! Several members of the community are abducted, including Percy Dolarhyde, son of the influential cattle herder Woodrow Dolarhyde (Harrison Ford). Many of the remaining men from the community of Absolution set off into the wild to track down the aliens and get their folks back. Lonergan goes too, as does the mysterious Ella Swenson...

I really enjoyed the first 20 minutes; the intrigue, Daniel Craig being gruff, the atmosphere of Absolution, the usual kind of Western stuff, I really love that. Once the aliens attack it is obviously less of a western, but the intrigue is still there (What are aliens wanting with these people? What has happened to Lonergan? Who is Ella?), Daniel Craig is still gruff, Harrison Ford is still cool, and Olivia Wilde is still good to look at. The aliens are cool and very well done, not really scary (this is only a 12a), but very well realised, especially since a lot of the action is in daylight.

Lonergan’s character is essentially atoning for his previous mistakes; though because he can’t remember any of it, he is getting a second chance to do the right thing. Daniel Craig is good in this role; thought Matt Damon did it a lot better as Bourne. Harrison is good as Dolarhyde, essentially a slightly villainous Han or Indy, who has some paternal and racist issues to get over. Lonergan and Dolarhyde also have history together which adds to some of the tension in the film. Also featuring in the cast are Sam Rockwell and Paul Dano, both of which are very underused and are capable of so much more. I’m not really sure why they were cast, their characters could have been played by anyone really.

Apart from the history of the main three characters the plot was fairly straightforward but didn’t clip along at the pace that you might expect; I did feel that there were sections where not very much happened. Then after a period of exposition it was time for the aliens to turn up again for some action; it all felt a bit formulaic. I thought that the cinematography could have been better. There were no expansive vistas to give that epic feel; though it was shot in New Mexico, so they could have done so much more.

The film isn’t without its silly moments either, particularly the clichés that have been used so many times before in so many middle of the road action films. Sam Rockwell can’t shoot for toffee, so he practises and practises; mmm do you think he’ll be a dead-shot at a really important part in the climax? “Hey son, take good care of that knife!”; do you think he might really need that knife later on? Despite Dolarhyde getting on with the Indians by the end of the film, it is still the one Indian in the party that sets out from Absolution who is the tracker! Another criticism would be that I never felt that any of the characters were in danger, I never felt that any of the main group wouldn’t make it.

On a more positive note: the music was very cool from Harry Gregson-Williams (the man who brought music to Kingdom of Heaven, Team America and The Tigger Movie - make your own mind up!), it’s very Westerny kind of music but modernised, and it works really well. Overall, I thought it was very enjoyable: a strong main cast, atmospheric, great effects, perhaps not the epic that the title may conjure up, but I thoroughly enjoyed it.