Film review: Cowboys and Aliens

posted at 11:00 am on July 31, 2011 by Ed Morrissey

WARNING: Some mild spoilers are included.

Last week, I mentioned that writing a review of the final Harry Potter film was an exercise in futility.  People who went to see the other episodes in the theater wouldn’t miss the finale, and people who hadn’t gone to previous installments wouldn’t start with the ending.  The same can be said for a movie with a title like Cowboys and Aliens — with the concept fully disclosed in the title, the people who go to see it will almost certainly love it, while others will avoid it. If they do, though, they will miss a fun ride.

Few film genres have such an overhead in clichés as Westerns and science fiction.  One might expect a high-concept idea like Cowboys and Aliens to break some of those hidebound storylines, but the film doesn’t have quite that much imagination.  The film starts off with a cattle baron who likes to throw his weight around (Harrison Ford) trying to intimidate the local sheriff (Keith Carradine) into releasing his immature, spoiled son who shot a deputy and very unwisely picked a fight with a seriously dangerous fugitive (Daniel Craig) with amnesia.  When the aliens show up, the cattle baron — a Civil War veteran — has to team up with the fugitive and the townspeople to find his son and  their missing kin and do battle with the aliens.  Along the way, they meet up with the fugitive’s gang and a band of Chiricahua, who might kill them before the aliens do.

Will the townspeople and the Native Americans learn to work together to save the planet? Will the cattle baron stop being a bully and become a leader once again?  Will he resolve his father-son issues?  (Did I mention that Steven Spielberg exec-produced it?) Will the man who doesn’t know how to shoot figure it out just when he’s needed most?  Will the boy become a man by using the knife given to him?   Will the dog survive?  If you don’t know the answers to these questions, welcome to American films, and please turn off your cellphone before the movie starts.  And these are just the Western-genre clichés.  You’ll never guess why the aliens are abducting people left and right throughout the film.  Oh, wait … yeah, you will.

But even with the predictability of the film, it’s still a lot of fun.  The cast is excellent, especially Harrison Ford, who gets to do the most acting in the film.  Daniel Craig is menacing but sympathetic as the amnesiac robber anti-hero hero, and like Ford, can lighten up a moment from time to time as well.  Clancy Brown, Paul Dano, and Sam Rockwell all turn in good performances, although the film wastes Keith Carradine, who is smooth as the sheriff.  The young Noah Ringer is especially good as the sheriff’s grandson who has to grow up in a hurry.  The pacing is excellent, and while the plot remains predictable, the action sequences will have you on the edge of your seat.

In short, this is a great popcorn flick, with plenty of fun and excitement, if not too many surprises.  By the end, you may be saying, “Come back, Shane!”, but you’ll still be glad you showed up in the first place.

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Comment pages: 1 2

RedWinged Blackbird on July 31, 2011 at 11:11 AM

Stephen King’s Dark Tower series. That is all.

Freelancer on July 31, 2011 at 9:27 PM

I tried to think that about that tree hugging military hating movie Avatar.

I am avoiding “Smurfahontas” at all costs. There’s YouTube vids comparing this movie with Pocahontas, and I despise anything that puts the military in a bad light.

My 10-yo son wants to watch it and I’ve been very firm on it. And I will avoid them Smurfs creatures of the devil-or so I was told way back when :/

ProudPalinFan on July 31, 2011 at 10:55 PM

I’m holding out for ‘My Idiot Brother’ and ‘Sarah’s Key’.

annoyinglittletwerp on August 1, 2011 at 12:37 AM

Cowboys and aliens ….

To this day Firefly is one of the stupidest things ever put on TV.

Tommy_G on July 31, 2011 at 12:07 PM

… and Philistines.

There Goes The Neighborhood on August 1, 2011 at 1:29 AM

I don’t know if I’ll watch this movie or not. It’s hard to look at Daniel Craig without picturing him on his knees (rhetorically) in front of Obama. Yes, I know most of Hollywood is like that, but really…”Obama would make a good James Bond”???

SKYFOX on August 1, 2011 at 7:57 AM

there’s no place for saddles or six-shooters in scifi.

You’ve never watched Firefly, have you?

crazy_legs on August 1, 2011 at 7:59 AM

Saw it last night with a friend. The first half was actually quite promising. The second half ran out of steam, let alone character development. That includes the half hour of exceptionally dull “Starship Troopers” style hand-to-claw combat. Nice shots of (presumably) New Mexico landscape. It may appeal to twelve year old boys especially as there are few if any yucky love scenes between the main protagonist and the stunningly beautiful cowgirl/alien.

Seth Halpern on August 1, 2011 at 10:27 AM

I like both genres, but not in one film. Westerns should be flying saucer-free and there’s no place for saddles or six-shooters in scifi.

RedWinged Blackbird on July 31, 2011 at 11:11 AM


Browncoatone on August 1, 2011 at 10:45 AM

Not it didn’t. To this day Firefly is one of the stupidest things ever put on TV. And that includes Presidential Primary Debates! Bad acting, horrid mind numbingly stupid dialog, bad writing, insipid plots (every other one was about saving River). It was so awful it didn’t last a season. Fox didn’t even air all the episodes that were made. It didn’t have a lot of fans or viewers, but the few there are a very loud and vociferous. Kinda like liberals. Hey I think this explains Obama.

Tommy_G on July 31, 2011 at 12:07 PM

There are no words harsh enough for the likes of you.

Browncoatone on August 1, 2011 at 10:49 AM

Comment pages: 1 2