Dropout UK @ Cowboys & Aliens Screening, Paramount UK
"The Name’s Bond, Jesse James Bond"
The much anticipated comic book adaptation Cowboys and Aliens by writer, producer, director and actor Jon Favreau was an exciting production that squeezed out a few laughs and thrills at the same time as creating a strong sense of mystery.
Favreau is not only one half of the talent behind the comical successes Couples Retreat (2009) and The Break-Up (2006) with friend and partner in crime Vince Vaughn; he is also responsible for the well received Iron Man films (2008-2010). Cowboys and Aliens is his sixth directorial feature and stars the brilliant Daniel Craig (Layer Cake 2004, James Bond 2006-2008, The Girl With The Dragon Tattoo 2011) as Jake Lonegan, the charismatic lone ranger type reminiscent of Clint Eastwood’s western repertoire; and film veteran Harrison Ford (Star Wars 1977-1983, Indiana Jones 1981-2008, What Lies Beneath 2000) displays a performance similar to that of Shane in George Stevens’ 1953 western as the reluctant father figure Woodrow Dolarhyde. The film also features the rising actress Olivia Wilde from the sequel to eighties favourite Tron Legacy (2010) as love interest Ella.
The film opens in the middle of the story, where Craig has awakened in the middle of nowhere, unaware of his surroundings and with no explanation of how he came to be injured and alone in the wilderness. The narrative progresses on in this way, creating more intrigue into Craig’s identity through his elusive nature and skill in combat, to reveal a character that is less of a good guy and more of a dishonourably shady criminal.
Whilst making ‘friends’ Craig and the rest of the gun-slinging, soap deprived cowboys soon realise that ‘they are not alone’ when their kin are rounded up like cattle and abducted. Craig, Ford and the ambiguous Ms. Wilde thus set off with those remaining to fight back and rescue their people.
The truth is that having two dominant and distinctively separate genres in the same film will ultimately leave one inferior. The story is almost completely directed in favour of the western, about the way of the cowboy and less so concerned with the aliens.
Obviously the creature’s presence in the film does validate the title, yet the invasion is initially presented as the film’s driving force, but is later depicted as very much a secondary aspect of the film. There are brief moments when the focus of the narrative is taken away from the aliens and they are marginalised by the authority of the western genre.
In addition, alien invasion movies rely heavily on spectacle and although the use of CGI expressed a realistic demonstration of technology, Favreau failed to put on the necessary lavish display of special effects needed to catapult the action and give a significant amount of weight to the sci-fi aspect of the movie.
Nevertheless Craig and Ford are the selling point of the film, along with the promising talent of Favreau, Cowboys and Aliens works fairly well because it manages to depict a convincingly gritty western. It is far more entertaining to watch the West fight a foreign enemy other than the Native Americans, but more importantly as a civilisation ill-equip in dealing with an advanced alien invasion. Good fun!