9.25 out of 10
‘Cowboys &Aliens’ is a fun film. It may not be the most unique and imaginative mash-up ever written, but the story works. The cast is great, the cinematography is absolutely beautiful, the pacing is spot on and the battle at the end is satisfying. What more do you want or expect from a Jon Favreau, Steven Spielberg film called ‘Cowboys & Aliens?’ The traditional western feel with the added element of the sci-fi aliens really makes this movie a unique western rather than an evenly balanced mash-up, and that was the correct way to go with this one so we didn’t wind up with another ‘Wild Wild West.’
Any spoilers will be clearly marked so you can avoid reading them if you so choose.
Cowboys & Aliens opens in Baltimore on July 29, 2011.
Cowboys & Aliens is exactly what it claims to be and exactly what it should be, a solid western with the addition of aliens (the ‘from another planet’ kind). The casting is spot on with Daniel Craig, Harrison Ford and Olivia Wilde in the lead roles with guys like Sam Rockwell, Keith Carradine and Walton Goggins in supporting roles. Everyone fit into the western genre perfectly, with maybe the exception of Olivia Wilde being way too hot for the time period.
The pacing is absolutely perfect. Those of you who have read a number of my reviews know that I often take points off when a film is not paced correctly since it can totally kill the flow. Well, for once I get to praise the pacing. The movie starts off like a traditional western introducing our main cowboy without giving too much info away, just enough to know he is a total badass. Then we are introduced to the other main players one by one as we slowly make our way through the small town. Enter in the antagonists, in this case, the aliens, and then let the townsfolk figure out what to do next. Then we get the chase and finally the showdown. And all of this occurs in a nice little 2 hour package. Perfect.
Cinematography is something that we often overlook nowadays with all the technology and ways to ‘cheat’ when making a film. Basically, that word covers the art of the photography, so think, how a film looks. Cowboys & Aliens is absolutely beautiful. The settings are gorgeous, the lighting and effects accent the scenes perfectly and it is just all the more impressive since this is a western where things are generally supposed to look dull and understated anyway. The location scouts and set construction workers should get some kind of award for this film.
The story is a little on the shallow side and fairly basic. Try to picture a basic, used before western plot and a basic, used before alien movie plot and then mash them together. As two separate movies they would probably be quite average. As a single film, the plot is much stronger. Let’s put it this way, there is plenty of story to justify the film and the result is still a very entertaining movie.
Really, the only knock against Cowboys & Aliens is the fact that the writers and filmmakers did not take many chances to make this a really unique film. The plot is a safe one. It is just enough to give the film the needed narrative to justify the mashing together of two genres, but nothing more. As such the film is great to watch once or twice but will ultimately be forgettable in the long run. It’s the kind of movie that if you saw it on the shelf at a friend’s house 10 years from now you would probably say something like, “Oh yeah, I remember that movie. I liked it.” But, that would be the end of the discussion and you may not feel the need to ask your friend to borrow it.
The Bottom Line
Cowboys & Aliens is an excellent film, but it’s not quite phenomenal. It does just about everything right except to make itself extraordinary. The acting is very good and the casting is spot on. The story is good enough, but it takes no chances to be anything more. The pacing is perfect and probably the best I’ve seen in a while. The cinematography is gorgeous and completely unexpected for the genre. All in all, this is a must see of 2011. The film may not stand the test of time as a classic, but it sure is a lot of fun right now. Parents, this film is rated PG-13 with some cowboy and sci-fi violence (duh!). There is some fairly graphic death and close quarters fighting (think knives). On a PG-13 scale from 1-10 for violence this would probably be a 6 or 7.