Cowboys & Aliens pulls out all the stops, technically and in regards to classic western and sci-fi story line. A mysterious stranger comes to town and stirs stuff up but also manages to better a situation somehow. Suddenly a rain cloud appears over the land in the shape of an extra terrestrial ship that nabs loved ones left and right, causing citizens to unite in pursuit of the alien snatchers, among which is a rich, curmudgeonly cowboy who just can’t seem to accept his adopted son as one of his own blood, even though the boy tries his hardest for his father’s approval. Prejudices are overcome, bonds are created, guns are fired, and cliches and predictability permeate the air in the theater so thickly that this audience member personally was lulled into a state of apathy and boredom. Yes Cowboys & Aliens does indeed pull out all the stops, but they are not the right ones.
I suffered from a complete lack of caring while watching this movie. The characters are one dimensional, the dialogue is mediocre and so forced that not even Harrison Ford himself can make his character out to be anything more than a seemingly-senile old man. Daniel Craig did a fine job of looking stoic and walking away from the camera (I wish I’d counted how many different times he does this throughout the film for it is quite a few, though I might say it is quite an enjoyable view). None of the characters are particularly relatable or enjoyable to watch, unless you want to include the shaggy pup that tags along for the alien hunt.
I do not blame the actors at all for the quality of the film, but rather the fact that the story line is not stimulating or very interesting; right off the bat, the revelation that the screenplay was written by five people is a tad concerning. The story line itself lacks development and cohesion. Why are the aliens nabbing citizens? I don’t know, they never really say. Why are aliens interested in gold? I’m not sure that is completely explained either. To top it off, the film is quite predictable and ends likes only a true western can: with the hero riding off into the sunset after the day is saved.
Going into this film, I had the expectation that it was going to be well done visually, however I quickly found the colors of the film to be very washed out and flat, even for a western setting. The overall look could have benefited somewhat from a sepia or saturation filter, the latter of which is used once in a flashback sequence where it works quite well but also one other random time where it just feels out of place. In an attempt to create a feeling of chaos and disorientation, one scene features a camera mounted on a harness fastened to the actor, pointed at the actor. The camera jostles smoothly with their movement in an effect that I’ve never seen work as a true visual aesthetic, but rather as a technique that should be limited to reality, ghost-hunting TV shows. The techniques all seem to just be poor imitations of past, perhaps more successful film endeavors while the plot poorly attempts to take fractured elements of classic movie genres and glue them back together into an interesting tale of mismatched opponents.
To wrap it up, Cowboys & Aliens is a dull, thrill-less ride that just makes me hunger all the more for some originality in Hollywood. And it earns itself a C+ in my book.
Runtime: 1 hour 58 minutes