COWBOYS & ALIENS
In 1875 New Mexico, a stranger (Daniel Craig) with no memory of his past stumbles into the hard desert town of Absolution. The only hint to his history is a mysterious metallic shackle that encircles one wrist. Absolution is run by the iron-fisted Colonel Dolarhyde (Harrison Ford) and lives in fear of him and his son Percy (Paul Dano). But the town is about to experience even greater fear when attacked by marauders from the sky. Screaming down with breathtaking velocity and blinding lights to abduct the helpless one by one, these monsters are unlike anything the residents have ever known. Now, the stranger they rejected - featuring on wanted posters as the outlaw Jake Lonergan - is their only hope for salvation. With the help of the elusive traveller Ella (Olivia Wilde), he pulls together a posse comprised of his former opponents - townsfolk, Dolarhyde and his boys, outlaws and local Apache warriors - all in danger of annihilation.
Review by Andrew L. Urban:
Admirably preposterous in its high concept idea (the title tells it all), Cowboys & Aliens makes the most of a Wild West setting and a sci-fi fantasy in which the aliens are after our gold - and the secrets of our human form. But everyone keeps a straight face; indeed, it's played as high drama, and entertainingly so.
Daniel Craig is usefully rugged as the lone stranger and as soon as we meet him we see he is well able to look after himself, when he is surrounded by some greedy dudes hoping he might be worth something dead or alive. As if it mattered. There is a faint echo of the Terminator in this arrival scene and the following scene when he takes the clothes, boots and guns from his assailants and gears up to ride into town. We're hooked.
Things get spicier as Percy (Paul Dano) the scumbag son of the feared Colonel Dolarhyde (Harrison Ford) delivers an exhibition of his nastiness, which gives our hero another chance to be cool and strong and do the right thing. But when the sheriff jails Percy it brings daddy to town with his boys to get Percy back. Ella (Olivia Wilde) steps in to stop the ensuing fight ... and that's when the aliens attack the town. Why Absolution? Because of the gold, silly. These aliens have a thing for gold.
The gold plated cast gives us comfort that we're in good hands when it comes to macho machinations - Harrison Ford and Daniel Craig at the front.
There's a wanted poster with the stranger's face - and his name, Jake Lonergan, but he doesn't remember what he did. Throughout the film we are teased with flashbacks about what he did - if only he could see them. There is a woman in that past, and perhaps a murder, missing gold that Jake is responsible for and who knows what else.
The aliens and their spacecraft are not of predictable design, thank goodness, and it's unusual to see Indians shooting bows and arrows at life forms from outer space.
Ella turns out to be quite a surprise package, but I won't spoil your viewing pleasure here. The screenplay proceeds on the assumption that enemies unite when jointly threatened by intergalactic forces on the attack, and this means previous foes have to work together to save themselves. Nothing too hard by way of a message, and plenty of slick action to carry us through to the busy climax.
The film probably plays pretty much as outlined in the first pitch to the investors; it does what it set out to do. I'm not sure if it's going to launch a new sub-genre of Western-sci-fi, but it's fun while it lasts.
Review by Louise Keller:
Retribution is the theme of this interesting mix of genres in which the classic Western morphs with science fiction. It's a bit like Unforgiven meets Alien with a dash of Indiana Jones thrown in for good measure. There's action and adventure, a protagonist with amnesia, a ruthless landowner, a beautiful girl with an aura of mystery, a youngster about to become a man and an Indian who believes in hoodoo. It's a fresh idea that works surprisingly well, delivering bold entertainment where dust, explosions and slime swirl together in a wild west adventure like you've never seen before.
It's a new direction too, for actor turned director Jon Favreau, many of whose films (apart from Iron Man) have comprised light-weight escapism. There's nothing light-weight about this one, compounded by its heavy-hitter producers that include Steven Spielberg, Brian Grazer and Ron Howard. Iron Man screenwriters Mark Fergus and Hawk Ostby have joined with Steve Oedekerk to craft a ripper of a tale that incorporates traditional elements from all the genres.
When the film begins, we are thrown headlong into the vast, unforgiving Mexican desert, where hardened outlaw Jake Lonergan (Daniel Craig) finds himself with a nasty gash in his side, a strange metal shackle on his left arm and no memory. We quickly learn he is fast on his feet and even faster on the draw, not hesitating to shoot before shouting. It is in these early scenes, when Jake makes his presence felt in the nearby desert town symbolically named Absolution, that we get a sense of the terror and intimidation imposed by the town bully and heavyweight Colonel Dolarhyde (Harrison Ford). His cowardly, sadistic son Percy (Paul Dano) is clearly a disappointment to him.
It doesn't take long for the mood to change, when the aliens invade, kidnapping some locals in spectacular fashion and Lonergan discovers his metal shackle bracelet is a powerful weapon. Goodies and baddies are forced to team up and even the Indians come onboard in the quest to rescue the kidnapped and destroy the alien enemy. Top casting with Craig as the killer-turned hero, utilising his great physicality he displayed in the Bond roles - in the desert, on horseback and leaping mid-air onto alien craft. Ford sits comfortably under his cowboy hat growling his disapproval as his character also undergoes a transformation. Olivia Wilde is striking as the enigmatic Ella Swensen and 12 year old Noah Ringer is excellent as the impressionable boy forced to become a man.
The big budget action scenes are well realized, often highlighted by Harry Gregson-Williams's resounding score, while the aliens are suitably repulsive, scary and slimy. There are touches of humour and the characters are well enough developed for us to care and get involved. The cinematography (by Matthew Libatique) transports us into the reality - we can taste the dust, feel the isolation and smell the danger - in anticipation for the adventure ahead.
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COWBOYS & ALIENS (M)
CAST: Daniel Craig, Harrison Ford, Olivia Wilde, Sam Rockwell, Adam Beach, Paul Dano, Noah Ringer, Abigail Spencer, Buck Taylor, Matthew Taylor, Cooper Taylor, Clancy Brown, Chris Browning
PRODUCER: Brian Grazer, Ron Howard, Alex Kurtzman
DIRECTOR: Jon Favreau
SCRIPT: Roberto Orci, Alex Kurtzman, Damon Lindelof, Mark Fergus, Hawk Ostby
CINEMATOGRAPHER: Matthew Libatique
EDITOR: Dan Lebental, Jim May
MUSIC: Harry Gregson-Williams
PRODUCTION DESIGN: Scott Chambliss
RUNNING TIME: 118 minutes
AUSTRALIAN DISTRIBUTOR: Paramount
AUSTRALIAN RELEASE: August 18, 2011
RIVERSIDE SNEAK PEEK PREMIERES
A program of premiere screenings of new movies prior to their commercial release
on 4 consecutive Tuesdays - March 10, 17, 24, 31, 2015 - at Riverside Theatre,
Curated & presented by Andrew L. Urban, discussion to
follow with special guests. Briefing notes provided.