You’re probably aware by now that Jon Favreu’s epic genre mashup Cowboys & Aliens was met this weekend with a resounding, “eh,” a sentiment reflected in the less than blockbuster take at the box office. This is an apt reaction to a fairly joyless summer film that is part Bourne Identity, part Independence Day, and one that takes itself far more seriously than it should.
A movie concept like Cowboys & Aliens lends itself perfectly to weekend matinee fun. I find it curious that director Favreu would instead adopt such a dead serious tone. No one in the movie seems to be having a good time, and events unfold that are more upsetting than exciting. Parents might want to rethink taking their children. This is one of the most brutal and disturbing PG-13 movies I’ve ever seen. At one point the audience is led to believe that anti-hero Jake Lonergan (Daniel Craig) is having flashbacks of his love being raped. Later we discover she was merely being eviscerated alive on an alien operating table right before his eyes. Call this a spoiler if you must. I call it bad taste, for neither outcome has much place in a film like this.
The action set pieces aren’t much better. People are bitten and stabbed and gouged and ripped open left and right, and there is little coherency to the action. When the movie slows down, it is generally to allow fellow anti-hero Dolarhyde (Harrison Ford) the opportunity to deliver grave speeches on how to use a knife to slit your friend’s throat and what it means to be a man in battle. Why the filmmakers would draw inspiration from Unforgiven for a movie like this as opposed to more lighthearted fare like Silverado is a mystery.
As veteran an actor as Ford is, it is up to Daniel Craig to do the heavy lifting here. With the exception of a couple of scenes, Ford sticks mainly to glowering and growling. While Craig isn’t any more congenial, his burning, steely blue eyes work overtime and he does a sizable job holding the film together. Sam Rockwell, sadly, is mostly wasted as the emasculated doctor who runs the local bar. Meanwhile, Clancy Brown shows up as, of all things, a preacher. He’s the most interesting character in the film and is onscreen for far too short a time. For her part, Olivia Wilde exudes confidence and a fittingly otherworldly beauty as the mysterious woman who joins the alien-busters.
Had Favreu and company just lightened up a bit they might have had a worthwhile amusement on their hands rather than a derivative downer.
Disagree? That’s fine by me. Share your thoughts below.