“Cowboys & Aliens,” the latest movie from “Iron Man” director Jon Favreau, is the kind of sci-fi film John Ford might have made, or maybe the kind of story H.G. Wells would have told if he wrote a western. There’s great scenery shots, lots of galloping horses, chiselled jaws, majestic vistas and yes, giant mysterious aliens.
Based on a 2006 graphic novel of the same name “Cowboys & Aliens” is set in the Old West in 1873. Daniel Craig plays a classic western character — Jake Lonergan, a stranger in town — with a twist. Waking up in the desert, he’s a stranger to everyone, including himself — his memory has been wiped clean. Odder still, a mysterious metal bracelet around his wrist. In the nearby town of Absolution, New Mexico he begins to find some clues as to his past courtesy of Colonel Dolarhyde (Harrison Ford), the settlement’s most prominent citizen. Their inevitable showdown is sidelined by what may be a cowboy movie first — an alien invasion. Soon the stranger starts to regain his memory and his wrist jewellery reveals its real purpose.
You should know going in that the ratio of cowboys to aliens is about 10 to 1. If I had to categorize this movie I’d call it a western sci fi rather than a sci fi western. It’s splitting hairs I know, but the onus here is on the horse opera. And Favreau and cast pull it off. Until giant spaceships swoop in, pulling awestruck citizens into their metal bosoms, the movie plays as a credible western.
Even when the alien craft first appears, the reactions of the town folk feel real. They’re obviously stunned, and decide that these creatures must be what demons look like. It’s an old testament via the old west explanation for something they don’t understand and it works well. So does Daniel Craig and an increasingly craggily faced Harrison Ford. Craig brings an interesting edge to the stereotypical stranger role and Ford gives the movie some old school heroics.
“Cowboys and Aliens” gets a little flabby in the middle — unlike its buff leading man — and takes a bit too long to get to the extraterrestrials, but has
enough Wowee moments to fill a ten gallon hat.
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