Genre Review Alien Invasion or Outlaw Redemption? Why not Both?
Bad Movie Review Cowboys & Aliens Has the Goods to Be Bad
This movie is an attempt to take a ridiculous premise and play it straight. The director, John Favreau, has a lot of credibility, having been an independent actor then gone on to direct hits such as Iron Man.
The cast is also full of top-notch actors, including Daniel Craig, Olivia Wilde, Sam Rockwell and Harrison Ford. On paper the only red flag was the number of writers and re-writes the script had to go through. But the producers definitely intended the movie to be a serious entry into one or both genres.
Some pretty respectable reviewers, including Roger Ebert, did like the result. Ebert gave it three stars and said:
The movie will no doubt be popular and deserves success. As preposterous moneymakers go, it’s ambitious and well-made. The acting from the large cast is of a high standard, Craig and Ford were more or less born into their roles, and director Jon Favreau actually develops his characters and gives them things to do, instead of posing them in front of special effects.
It does do a pretty good job of driving the action and accelerating the tension up to the big climax. But it’s just not very good. The acting is spotty. Daniel Craig is great until he tries dialog–then it’s obvious he doesn’t belong in a Western. Many of the other characters appear to be phoning it in. To be generous, they may not have understood what kind of movie it was and never really grounded their characters in anything.
The one exception has to be Harrison Ford. He got some criticism for his gravelly old rancher, but that was perfect for what the role could have been. His character felt genuine and captured much of the moral ambiguity around actual big ranchers of the period. His rough nature and occasional bad acts came from his moral center, which required tough choices. Unfortunately, the characters around him did not pick up on this depth, making him look like he was patched in from a different movie.
The ridiculous nature of the whole affair is thrown at us by the filmmakers, hoping we will support their efforts to transcend it. But they don’t. Several of the scenes are so over-the-top that the movie can’t ground itself in any imaginable reality, not even one with cowboys and aliens.
As the movie moves towards that exciting climax, the pile of generic tropes builds up and weighs on the movie itself. The final battle is strong enough to sustain a sense of fun, but even as we enjoy it, we know that we won’t like it much tomorrow.
The best I should give this movie would be 2 out of 5, but I’ll add another star just for the much better movie that Harrison Ford seemed to be part of, wherever that movie might exist.