1875. New Mexico Territory. A stranger with no memory of his past stumbles into the hard desert town of Absolution. What he discovers is that the people of Absolution don't welcome strangers, and nobody makes a move on its streets unless ordered to do so by the iron-fisted Colonel Dolarhyde. It's a town that lives in fear. But Absolution is about to experience fear it can scarcely comprehend as the desolate city is attacked by marauders from the sky. Now, the stranger they rejected is their only hope for salvation. As this gunslinger slowly starts to remember who he is and where he's been, he realizes he holds a secret that could give the town a fighting chance against the alien force.
Directed by: Jon Favreau
. Starring: Daniel Craig
, Abigail Spencer
, Buck Taylor
, Matthew Taylor
, Cooper Taylor
, Clancy Brown
, Paul Dano
, Chris Browning
, Adam Beach
, Sam Rockwell
, Ana de la Reguera
, Noah Ringer
, Brian Duffy
. Music by: Harry Gregson-Williams
A funny thing happened to me at the local cinema the other day. Just as I rounded the corner from the concession counter nibbling on a chocolate bar I had purchased, a youngster eating from a jar of peanut butter ran full speed right into me and knocked us both to the ground. We were both uninjured, but my chocolate bar had become embedded in the lad's peanut butter. Carefully extracting my dark confection from the goober paste, I sampled it. You know what? It was pretty good.
My actual experience at the movie theatre entailed the viewing of Cowboys and Aliens, directed by Jon Favreau. Mr. Favreau, who previously directed the highly successful Iron Man movies, has imaginatively blended the respectively entertaining genres of westerns and science fiction into a solid work that pleases the viewer. Based on the graphic novel of the same name, Cowboys and Aliens is the story of an extraterrestrial incursion into 1873 Arizona (though it was spectacularly filmed in New Mexico; one of the great charms of the movie). When the sinister aliens abduct the townsfolk of the mining town of Absolution (along with a few neighboring Apaches), curmudgeonish cattle king Colonel Dolarhyde and mysterious drifter Jake Lonergan ally to combat the invaders. Joined by the equally mysterious Ella, an outlaw gang, and a band of Apaches, the earthlings endeavor to rescue their people and drive the bad guys back to outer space.
The film's characters are the driving force. Academy Award nominee Harrison Ford (Star Wars, Indiana Jones, Witness) simmers as Col. Dolarhyde, and Daniel Craig (Layer Cake, the new James Bond) turns in an excellent yet subtle performance as the enigmatic Jake Lonergan. They are joined as headliners by Hollywood's new "it" girl, Olivia Wilde (Tron), who flawless beauty aside, is respectable as Ella. Other strong actors who will be recognizable to the audience include character actor Clancy Brown (Highlander, Extreme Prejudice, Shawshank Redemption), as the preacher, Sam Rockwell (Charlie's Angels, Conviction) as Doc, Adam Beach (Smoke Signals, Flags of Our Fathers) in the role of Dolarhyde's Native American right-hand man, and Paul Dano (Little Miss Sunshine, There Will Be Blood) as the colonel's son. A strong cast submits a fine performance in a story that could easily be subject to question.
The cinematography of this work soars, as the camera work turns the New Mexico landscape into almost another great character. The dusty plains, juniper-dotted hills, dry arroyos, and distant mountains come alive through excellent photography and the artful use of the great light that is ubiquitous in the Land of Enchantment. The viewer can almost smell the pinon, and you will swear you have to wipe the dust from your face when you leave the theater. Even a person who is not a connoisseur of this type of movie should be able to enjoy the scenery that envelops and cushions the story.
What's not to like about the movie? Nothing overwhelming. The presence of five writers on the screenplay occasionally creates a sense that the story is being pulled in different directions. Some of the elements necessary to a western film can lend an air of triteness to the skeptical, and quite honestly, I would like to have seen better aliens. Favreau's gold-mining extraterrestrials look like a cross between the alien from Steven Spielberg's recent Super 8 and the Rancor monster from Star Wars Return of the Jedi, with certain appendages that come into play only through an anatomical mechanism reminiscent of the bad vampires in Blade II. I'm sorry, but I like to think of aliens that are capable of traveling light years to eradicate mankind as looking a little less brutish and a little more cerebral. Finally, the characters' overly good looks and perfect smiles (particularly Ella's blinding white teeth) suggest that 19th century Arizona was either a place devoid of poor oral hygiene or the world Mecca of cosmetic dentistry.
In a work that could easily be construed as a dubious premise, the plot holds up. Action-adventure aside, it contains elements that represent profound and timeless themes. We see the redemption and reconciliation of men who had previously done wicked things, the maturation of a prodigal son, and even a suggestion of the eternal nature of the spirit as subscribed to by different faiths. The movie portrays enemies coming together based on their common humanity and strongly reminds us the poignant lesson of the Golden Rule, via its tacit commentary on manifest destiny (is Stephen Hawking listening?). While this film may indeed be the stuff of graphic novels, it is no comic book.
Western movies are a staple of the American spirit. Films such as Unforgiven, True Grit, and Dances With Wolves have not only entertained, but also drawn the praise of the Academy of Motion Picture Arts & Sciences. Over the past thirty years, science fiction has become an increasingly popular genre, with the Academy noting works such as E.T., Avatar, and District 9. With a stroke of cinematic genius, Jon Favreau has combined the two into a highly entertaining amalgamation that honors both while taking viewers to a new place.
Review by mkhiii from the Internet Movie Database.