Arizona. 1873. A man wakes up with no memory of who he is, where he is, or what the metal bracelet attached to his arm is. He makes his way to the small town of Absolution, where he meets a mysterious stranger called Ella, and is recognised as Jake Lonergan, a wanted outlaw. Turns out he’s stolen gold from local cattleman Colonel Dolarhyde, and now Dolarhyde wants revenge. However, before he can take his revenge, an alien spacecraft attacks Absolution, and very quickly their feud becomes secondary to the extra-terrestrial invaders who seem hell bent on abducting the locals and destroying everything...
It gives me hope that one day I might be able to enter the film industry whenever I see a film like Cowboys & Aliens come to the cinema. You can picture the pitch meeting, can’t you? “What’s it called?” “Cowboys & Aliens!” “And what’s it about?” “Cowboys & Aliens!” “Well, who does it feature?” “Cowboys & Aliens!” I could go on. Seriously, the film is succinctly and aptly described by its title. This film feature cowboys and it features aliens. Cowboys & Aliens is the be all and end all of this movie. But is there an interesting plot? Is there a reason to watch it? No.
It annoys me that this is so poorly executed because the premise has limitless possibilities to be infinitely cool, and yet it spends so much time trying to balance out the western and sci-fi aspects of the film that it ends up failing on both fronts and being criminally boring and, frankly, awful. It’s too ludicrous to be a western. It’s too dull to be a memorable sci-fi. I realise usually I spend some time ambling towards my point and eventually making a judgement on it, but in this case, I wasn’t even disappointed by the film, I was more infuriated. I’ve been mulling this over for 12 hours as I write this and I don’t think I’ve seen a more frustrating film all year. The story is painfully clichéd and the characters are wooden and two-dimensional.
This wasn’t helped by the casting and/or the performances the cast gave. Daniel Craig is meant to play the classic western brooding, gruff loner/outsider, but you can’t attach yourself to him, even though he’s meant to be the protagonist. They give him a soapy back story and make him the reformed hero, but there’s no emotion involved at all. As for the antagonist, someone needs to help Harrison Ford because I’m fairly sure he had a stroke back in 1983 and no-one checked for the side effects because he went all the way through this, and pretty much every film he’s been in since Return of the Jedi, mumbling his lines and delivering the same facial expression, a seemingly fixed scowl, almost as if he didn’t want to be there. Olivia Wilde is only alright as the female lead Ella, delivering a similar performance to the one she gave in Tron: Legacy but then you don’t need much from her; she just needs to look good. And she does. Above all of this, however, there is a far bigger crime involving one particular piece of casting. Sam Rockwell. He’s here as a secondary character called Doc who doesn’t really do a lot. What a waste. I think Sam Rockwell is a fantastic actor, and has proven himself worthy of lead roles time and again, and to be given a lifeless role like this is shocking. He does well enough with what little screen time he’s given, but good lord is he ever misplaced in this.
I feel like this was a real missed opportunity. They could have avoided every cliché that they so willingly walked into here. Admittedly, the film does deliver exactly what an audience is going to want to see from a film called Cowboys & Aliens. There’s a bar fight. There are abductions. There’s destruction. There are plenty of aliens. There’s a partial romance. In between all that, the writing is just lazy, clearly just a bunch of writers giggling at themselves at the premise and doing nothing extraordinary with it. The script contains some really corking lines like “It’s not your fault” and “I know where they are”, every plot element is flimsily tied together by flashbacks and ‘shocking twists’ and those ‘shocking twists’ are so inane, you’ll either guess them straight away or be dumbfounded as to how ludicrous they are. Naturally, they’re key to the story and deliver information and elements needed to reach the conclusion, but by the time you get there, you’ll be wishing they’d gotten there sooner.
Overall, in case you couldn’t tell, I didn’t like this film. You know when your parents say they’re not mad, they’re just disappointed? Well I wasn’t disappointed, I was maddened by this. It’s infuriatingly banal and uninventive, and that’s what I’ll take away from this. I will say this though, the aliens looked mildly impressive and the landscapes are fittingly stunning, as they should be for a Western, so it doesn’t fail completely. On almost every other level , though, it does. People will naturally flock to see this, and I understand that, but I hope those people walk out as disappointed as I did so that they learn their lesson like I did. Trust me on this: I have seen Cowboys & Aliens SO THAT YOU DON’T HAVE TO.