Seeing Indiana Jones and James Bond kick some bad-ass aliens in the Old West makes for value-packed entertainment in Cowboys & Aliens.
Relatively few actors have the particular coolness level to pull off certain things that must look particularly goofy on the pages of the scripts. Think Keanu Reeves in Constantine rolling up his suit pants legs, putting his feet in a bucket of water and connecting with The Underworld. Now add to the list Daniel Craig wearing a “bracelet”—the extraterrestrial version of a six-shooter.
From the Daniel Craig-light of Lara Croft: Tomb Raider, the actor went full throttle in The Golden Compass and the last two Bond movies, so he was well groomed to play the cool and ever-evaluating, bracelet-wearing, amnesia-addled Jake Lonergan of Wild, Wild West days. The film opens on a Lonergan alone in the desert, wounded and confused, but that doesn’t stop him from quickly dispatching with the bad guys who ride up.
Craig’s Lonergan continues with his decisive cool and ability to convey much with a single look as he rides—with new gear, clothes and a horse, courtesy of the bad guys— into the archetypal Western town, c. 1870s.
As we found from the opening scene, the man of few words, who turns out to be a “wanted man,” is not to be messed with—not even by Indiana Jones, uh, Colonel Dolarhyde (Harrison Ford, who could only have been bested in this role by Tommy Lee Jones). But Dolarhyde, the King of Cattle who thinks he runs the town, and the rest of the townfolk quickly find they need the man with the bracelet, even though he just wants to be left alone. When the town is attacked from above and people start getting roped up by a neat wire trick, we see Lonergan’s bracelet wields a lot of fire power.
In the fashion of other battle-for-Earth films, the bigger cause brings all the players together—not just the townfolk. Soon we’ve got the Indians and bad guys on board too.
Cowboys & Aliens also features Keith Carradine (Wild Bill Hickok in Deadwood) as the sheriff, Olivia Wilde (Tron: Legacy) as the woman of mystery, Sam Rockwell (Confessions of a Dangerous Mind) as the bar owner ill-prepared for the rugged New Mexico territory (certainly one with aliens), and the ever-imposing Clancy Brown (Carnivále, Highlander) as the preacher. Adam Beach (Flags of our Fathers) plays Dolarhyde’s mistreated right-hand man and wannabe son; Noah Ringer (The Last Airbender) plays the sheriff’s grandson, and Paul Dano (Fast Food Nation) is Dolarhyde’s bad-behaving offspring (oh that there were a young Nic Cage in this role).
Director Jon Favreau (Iron Man), with a little help from Steven Spielberg and Guillermo del Toro, manages with Cowboys & Indians to take two completely different film types and tease out the best features to come up with a hybrid that works. Cowboys & Indians moves easily from the sepia-tones of an Edward S. Curtis American Indian landscape to the metallic blues of our favorite modern-day alien movies; from a John Ford Western to Ridley Scott’s Alien. It’s agile, clever and has a surprising amount of comic moments. And for Ford fans, his short list of familiar facial expressions all are in full play here!
For screenwriters: The Western isn’t dead! It just needs creatures from outer space. View Cowboys & Aliens, follow up with the History Channel’s Ancient Aliens, and there’s ample inspiration for the next great screenplay in the new cowboy-alien genre.
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