Tuesday, 16 August 2011

FILM REVIEW: Cowboys and Aliens

By far the biggest film at Movie Con was Cowboys and Aliens. The UK premiere kicked off the event on Thursday night and was attended by all its main stars: Daniel Craig, Harrison Ford, Olivia Wilde and its director Jon Favreau (Iron Man). And what with it then playing out every evening for the next three days, it was almost inevitable that we were going to cross paths at some point.

As I have stated in my Attack The Block review: I don't do alien movies. This however, was a pleasant surprise, and a great Saturday night film - even though we were three rows from the front of the superscreen and you had to physically turn your head to look from one end to the other.

Daniel Craig is Jake Lonergan, a wanted outlaw who wakes up in the middle of the desert with no memory and a strange metal shackle around his wrist. Heading into the nearest town he gets attracts the attention of the local sheriff after a run in with bigshot Paul Dano, and mystery woman Olivia Wilde, who seems to know more about his present situation than he does. When Harrison Ford, a local colonel who wants Jake for stealing his gold, turns up in town all hell suddenly breaks loose as lights flash from the sky and alien planes snatch up half the town's population, setting fire to buildings and leaving a trail of devastation and grief. During all of this, the metal shackle comes to life, and Jake is able to shoot down one of the planes with its powers, and in doing so the survivors can track the alien and follow it to try and win back their people.

The concept (based on a graphic novel) was always going to be intriguing - interrupting a Wild West scene with technologically advanced creatures.  In comparison with the other 'aliens in an unfamiliar environment film' I saw this weekend, Cowboys and Aliens is more enjoyable, and more exciting and visual to watch. I was always more interested in Westerns than Brit flicks anyway...

The 'attack' scenes are fantastic, particularly the first raiding on the town which dazzles the viewers and sets the film up for the main conflict. Favreau is using all of his skills here from his previous action films to make these sequences dramatic as well as dynamic. The cinematography and sets are also stunning - it looks and feels like the desert, and seeing an alien spaceship lodged amongst the blazing sun and rocky terrain is compelling as it is striking.

It's a shame everything good about the film was on its surface. The characters did feel as though they had been simply lifted from the pages of the comic book. They had a rigidity about them, a 2D feel, and though the film itself didn't give in to the gimmick of 3D the characters could have at least developed a layer or two. I found this particularly evident with Sam Rockwell's character, the saloon owner, who loses his wife in the first attack but yet his love for her and grief at losing her are barely noticeable. Therefore its the reunion of boy and grandfather that draws the biggest pathos at the end of the film.

Craig, Ford and Wilde are all very capable in their roles and certainly look the part and authentic to the genre, but their characters emit little sympathy or connection, especially Wilde when - in a less then pleasing twist halfway through the film - is revealed to be an alien (albeit a good one). There are some promising notes: Harrison Ford's relationship with the Indian he takes in is nicely done, and Paul Dano is excellent as the good for nothing bothersome Percy, who is sobered and matured by his abduction. But the Craig/Wilde romance is underwhelming, as is the resolution of Craig's Jake Lonergan. What does he actually learn from any of this? What does he actually achieve? And in all honesty, all the townsfolk seem rather non-plussed with the events happening around them... there was a cute dog though. I did fear for him a few times.

Cowboys and Aliens does exactly what it sets out to do in its title, and you're not going to be bored watching it all play out on the big screen. Whether you'd watch it again though, is another matter. Whether there's going to be a sequel... well maybe there's more to come from these characters after all. But thank you Movie Con, for allowing me to see something brainless for a change.

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