Cowboys & Aliens was poised to be this year's District 9 - a high minded, late summer science fiction movie with an emphasis on character of computer generated explosions. But a funny thing happened on the way to the prairies, and the film ended up a colossal disappointment – a mishmash of jagged edges and inexplicable plot contrivances.
The movie starts off well enough – Jake Lonergan (Daniel Craig) wakes up in the middle of nowhere. He's wounded and beat up – but more startlingly he can't remember who he is and has a mysterious shackle wrapped around his wrist. He's confronted by a group of men, who he dispatches violently and quickly. Taking the men's clothes (and their dog), he makes his way into the town of Absolution. It's a dusty little town and in true western fashion we get glimpses of the town people – there's Percy Dolarhyde (Paul Dano), the prick son of a local cattle baron; the grizzled sheriff (Keith Carradine), the cowardly saloon owner (Sam Rockwell), and the pragmatic preacher (Clancy Brown).
It's the sheriff who discovers that Lonergan, who claims to remember nothing before he woke up, is actually a wanted stickup man who had recently robbed cattle baron Dolarhyde (Harrison Ford). The sheriff sticks Lonergan in jail along with Percy Dolarhyde, who was shooting off his revolver and accidentally hit a deputy. It's while they were being transported from the jail to the railroad that two things happen – Colonel Dolarhyde (as he was known in the war) shows up with his posse to break his son out of jail, and fair stranger - bright lights appeared on the horizon and, zooming low to the ground, let out beams of terrible light and high tech lassos which injudiciously grab the town folk (people like Percy, the sheriff and Doc's Mexican wife).
Even stranger still is that the iron bracelet on Lonergan's wrist starts to blink and light up and, when he holds his arm up in the direction of one of the flying machines (which look kind of like steampunk dragonflies), is able to blast it out of the sky. After the craft is downed, the remaining townspeople hear screams and see a giant, slithery beast scamper off.
So now the townspeople, including a mysterious and very adorable stranger (Olivia Wilde) set off to track down the beast and get their friends and family returned safely. (For reasons that aren't entirely clear, Lonergan is convinced the monsters – referred to as "demons" by the cowboys – have his wife. Don't ask.) It's typical western territory – staying out of rain, running into Native Americans, grumpily chatting, and finally learning to accept each other because, hey, we're all earthlings here.
Things culminate in rousing fashion, with a whole bunch of cowboys and Indians going up against the bloodthirsty alien hordes, while a movie built in practical effects and actual horses falling down the rabbit hole of computer generated flimflammery while loveable rogue Lonergan finds redemption but at a fairly high cost (and I'm not just talking about Daniel Craig's paycheck).
It's sort of incredible how badly Cowboys & Aliens fails. I'm not going to lie – I kind of had a feeling that this would be a wholly uninteresting exercise when the title card flashed – it was Cowboys & Aliens in a dull font (Times New Roman, I'd wager) – no elaborate western font with curlicues, no flying saucer that hovers over the words, no whip sound effect, no burn that torches the title card like at the beginning of Bonanza. Just Cowboys & Aliens. I honestly thought to myself: "Oh boy, they forgot that this thing is supposed to be FUN." For the next two hours, my feelings didn't change.
Forgetting the complete asininity of the screenplay (if you haven't given up trying to make sense of this thing by the midway point, you're far more forgiving than I), the production itself is dreary and artless. What's amazing is that it pretends that it is the first western ever made – and is played completely straight. What I mean is that director Jon Favreau, who is fairly awful director who have convinced people of his virtuosity thanks to the loud, ungainly Iron Man films, doesn't acknowledge any of the greats that came before him, because if he did, he would borrow things from them – the great changes in depth of field from Sergio Leone, the explosive violence of Sam Peckinpah, the widescreen scope of David Lean, the everyday ruggedness of Clint Eastwood – and not just shoot and cut the movie in the most boring, predictable way possible. How could he employ Matthew Libatique, one of the greatest working cinematographers, and make a movie this ugly? It's shocking stuff, really.
As the movie unspooled (or downloaded, I suppose, if it was a digital print and I'm pretty sure it was), I kept wondering why the decisions were made. I'd lob specific questions around in my head like - Why, for instance, is Harry Gregson-Williams score played so straight? I imagined a score in my head that would combine the strings of a Ennio Morricone score with something akin to Bernard Hermann's score for Day the Earth Stood Still, Theremins and all. But more often than not I would just wonder why what I was watching wasn't cooler. Why isn't the sequence where our heroes hide out in an upside down river boat (which is never explained, bee tee dubs) in the middle of a rainstorm cooler? That sequence should have dripped atmosphere. At that moment in the time not only are they following a killer monster, but the characters don't trust each other yet so there can be all the angles played between the various villains.
The thing about Cowboys & Aliens, though, is that it doggedly refuses to engage in the material. There are five credited writers on this thing (including Lost co-creator Damon Lindelof), and more than a dozen more have contributed over the film's contentious multiyear development phase, and it's clearly a case of two many cooks in the kitchen. There isn't any thematic weight given to the aliens' master plan, even though parallels are clearly supposed to be drawn, and Favreau doesn't have any interest in elaborating further – it's both dramatically and visually unsophisticated.
I guess the best thing you can say is that the monsters look pretty cool. And, for the purposes of this site, it will make a hell of a Blu-ray, what with the amount of zooming visual effects and ear-shattering bombs going off. Other than that, you can wholly skip Cowboys & Aliens. It's one of the worst "entertainments" I've had to endure this summer. The whole time I kept wishing someone would abduct me. I didn't get my wish.
Can someone break down where there is a numerical score of the staff reviews? With Bridesmaids and the other first couple, the had a x/10 score under the name of the movie. Now, it says "Preview" and user ratings.
Interesting to see you label Jon Favreau as an awful director, and Iron Man as ungainly. I saw the original in 09 sometime, and was stunned to learn it was JF at the helm, that was such a well handled movie, I enjoyed the second as well. I'd just labeled him as a comedian or Vince Vaughn's side kick and didn't take much notice of him. I would label him competent.. Anyways I'll likely line up for this one regardless. And christ, I can't believe i am actually older than him X/. what have I done with my life? hehe.
Why don't you cut Favreau some slack? What has he directed, a half dozen films? Are you really able to see the style of a director over a small number? I mean, Leone and Eastwood together have directed/assisted on almost 80 films... A little tough to measure against those two names.
This site should stick to doing Blu-Ray reviews(which are great by the way), because the film reviews are God awful. Has there been a positive one yet? I think the reviewers need to start setting their expectations going in...So where's the reviewer's score?
My my ... a fine paradox in the reviewers thought process. Fussing over the "fun" not oosing from the screen and yet comparing JF's style to Leone and Eastwood. I felt a negativity shadowing all the comments which leads me to believe the film is probably not as bad as the review would have us believe. I agree with others, I've read several reviews posted here and found I disagree with the vast majority of them. With that said, this movie will be 'ok' and 'nothing super special' but certainly not replete with 'asininity' as this review bluntly extoles. However, after watching it (for "free" with movie cash) I'll retract/edit my comment if I start wandering in my head with musings of style comparisons with Leone and Eastwood instead of just watching and, hopefully, enjoying the movie. (Perhaps this explains why I am not a film critic .....) Stay tuned ....
I saw it last night and while I'll say it's maybe not as bad as the review makes it seem, it's also just plain not good. It's pretty dull. There doesn't seem to be a lot of action for either a cowboy or an alien movie. It's played waaaay to seriously and its to it's own detriment. I kept waiting for something to happen to make me get excited and it never really happened. For all the talk about Harrison Ford really being amazing in this, I actually found most of what he did was growl for two hours. There's also a twist halfway through that I never bought (and even under my breath, went "What?!?"). Craig is pretty good and likable, but other than some stuff at the beginning, there isn't even much for him to do.
Overall, there's some flashes of good sprinkled throughout Cowboys & Aliens, but unfortunately they're very brief flashes that didn't happen often enough to keep me interested.
And as to whether you could judge a director's style by this point... Cowboys & Aliens is Favreau's 6th feature film. Do you know what Spielberg's 6th feature film was? E.T. The Extra-Terrestrial (or Raiders of the Lost Ark if you count Duel as his first feature). Christopher Nolan's 6th... The Dark Knight. Peter Jackson's 6th... The Fellowship of the Ring. Sam Raimi's 6th... The Quick and the Dead (a, sorry, much superior and entertaining western to C&A). You want to know what Clint Eastwood's 5th movie was... The Outlaw Josey Wales. Or how about Guillermo del Toro's 6th feature film... Pan's Labyrinth. 5 or 6 movies is enough time (more than enough, actually) to really give your films a unique, creative spark.
I like Favreau and think he's a competent director with great intentions, but he comes at his films with a very blank, intelligible style.
Guys - movie reviews are subjective and you have to understand that not everyone is going to like the films you do. Just as the reviewer here probably likes some films that you dont like. Give him and the site a break. Go read movie reviews by reviewesr that you always agree with and you'll be much happier. Honestly, Ill give this a rent but it does sound rather preposterous and silly. We shall see.
Well, so if he had played 'homage' to those directors you mentioned, you would've said that he was copying their style...in the end, with EVERY SINGLE MOVIE that is made, did it entertain you? After all, it's not like you're going to believe that what happened to Indiana Jones in all the movies (fourth included) could happen in real life...
Didn't expect much from this movie, and Daniel Craig is the worst stone (I daren't call him an actor) in many years. First I saw Iron Man 1 I thought it was fun, but I couldn't finish watching it the second time because of dullness.
And yes, stick to Blu-ray reviews on this site, please.
Clint Eastwood's first film was Play Misty For Me, his second was High Plains Drifter and his fifth was Outlaw Josey Wales - all which did very well. not to say all his movies were successes but if you want to compare Favreau to him, Favreau has a lot of work to do; Eastwood already had his style by now. plus Favreau is getting big name movies with big name stars - Eastwood usually was directing himself and in the case of Josey Wales, directed out of necessity - Favreau isn't doing either.
having said all that, I am still interested in seeing this but I might wait until it hits the cheap theatre now.
How can you review a sci-fi western and not talk about Firefly? Also, these reviews are horrible. Please, please, please tell me where I can go to submit a resume for this site, because there needs to be another opinion other than Mr. Taylor's. Hell, I'll write 'em for free. And saying it was poised to be this year's district 9 is laughable, even in pedigree the two couldn't be more different: one had nary a star in the batch and cost a measly $30 million, and the other is crammed with stars like Harrison Ford, Daniel Craig, Olivia Wilde and Sam Rockwell, and cost over $100 million. For the love of god, hire a second writer. Please. It'll at least make Drew have to work harder when he sees what actual reviewing is.
@NathanAirzona - I think to call Jon Favreau a hack is going a little far. I really enjoyed Elf - and I give Favreau all the credit in the world for making a PG-rated Will Ferrell comedy in a period of time where he was only doing R-rated raunchiness or PG-13 carbon copies left and right. It was a fun, original family film, and it scored huge with critics and the box office. Iron Man was amazing, though you could tack that up entirely to Downey Jr's performance. Iron Man 2 was pretty bad. So even if this movie is as god-awful as the reviewer says it is, that's two great movies and two not-so-great ones. That doesn't make him a hack, and it certainly doesn't make him hollywood's least original director.
If the movie reviewers on this site didn't have something to complain about they wouldn't know what to do with themselves. Therefore they must complain about every movie that comes out.
This review is the worst review on the internet. I believe IGN will do better than this. Somebody else needs to stand up and take the reigns from this guy or this site is going to lose credibility real fast.
This is the second review this week that has tried to compare a movie to District 9. I didn't realize that there was a District 9 void that need to be filled. What was last years District 9, you know, since it came out 2 years ago? Why does every movie with a scifi element have to be the next District 9, and why does one need to come out each and every year? I didn't know that D9 was the be all end all of scifi movies. I mean it was good, but was it really that good.
Please, no more D9 comparisons for at least 3 months. I'd love to read one good review so please, go see the new Winnie The Pooh because if you can give that a bad review then you need to find a new job.
I still don't get the point of these scoreless reviews. It's laughable how terrible this guy is. Who's idea was it to pay this troll? All of his "previews" are just "hurr durr this movie sucks and the director has no talent hurr durr" and "Why isn't (X-Movie) as good as (highly acclaimed, award winning (Y-Movie)." Hmm, maybe because they're not the same director OR MAYBE BECAUSE PEOPLE WANT TO USE THEIR OWN IDEAS.
If this guy had his way all movies would be the same thing over and over again, even worse than it is now.
@FT-86 - I think it is great that you like Ben Affleck's movies as a director. The point is comparing a Director after six films to some legends is a bit weak to say the least (my opinion anyway). As far as Affleck being 2 for 2 - That is one more than many one-hit wonder songs. I liked the movies he directed as well, but I am not going to compare him to Leone and Eastwood... at least not for another 20 some movies. Drew Taylor was talking about "Personal Style." I "liked" a few of Favreau's movies but does that matter if I need to catergorize a style? How are the two related?
I never actually felt bad for liking a movie until I read this review. I was totally not prepared for this ocelot of hate towards the movie and it's directer. This movie was simply FUN. Could it have been better? Sure, there are few movies we can say that can't. A movie like this deserves to be commended for trying to bring something a little different to the table, and no matter what you say, it was NOT trying to be the "next District 9". So many movies nowadays are simply remakes or sequels, so a movie like this was refreshing to me. I really feel like most movies nowadays are criticized way too much altogether, and if it's going to win best picture (and even then there is a lot of negativity) then the movies get ripped apart on even their most minor flaws. Bottom line though, I enjoyed me some Cowboys and Aliens!
I love this site to death, but something needs to seriously be done with these movie reviews. I don't necessarily think ending them all together is the right action, but if nothing changes then I guess it will be.
Man, the reviews above are definately brutal...I thought for a minute I was reviewing the
next academy award picture!!Haha
I watched this show last evening at a small theater with basically an analog screen and a 15 year old sound system...yes , it was painful!!!
But I noticed that even with limited qualityonscreen; the shots were panoramic, like the scenes in Outlaw Josey Wales the first time you watch the blu ray version..its like watching the movie for the first time.
Yea, this one isn't a downtown, upbeat, fast and furious action show, but for a western I thought it was pretty good considering the B western movies being released right now from Canada, ie, sixgun, jesse james , etc.
Harrison Ford pulled this one out of the tank. The father & your the son I never had, was a good scene...I actually got blurry eyed at that point.
All in all for 6 bucks, I believe I got my moneys worth.
Unfortunately, There are more folks on this post that didn't get their just rewards than did get rewarded.
Some advice...stick with the non western movies!!!
chic flicks, horror, psycho...from reading the reviews here, it would see appropriate!!!