This week my dad and I went on our semi-annual trek to the movies and saw Cowboys & Aliens. Heading to the theater, I had already lowered my expectations, as Rotten Tomatoes had compiled reviews to only 44% positive (i.e. “rotten”). Still, the thought of seeing Harrison Ford and Daniel Craig – two of my favorite actors – together on the screen was hard to pass up.
Cowboys & Aliens starts with Jake Lonergan (Daniel Craig) waking in the desert with no memory of who he is, how he got there, or why he has a strange device strapped to his wrist. In short order, Jake discovers he has the ability to fight and shoot, makes his way to a nearby busted gold rush town named Absolution, gets into the typical spaghetti Western shenanigans, and gets arrested for crimes he doesn’t remember.
Then enters Harrison Ford, playing a grump of a wealthy rancher, Col. Woodrow Dolarhyde. He’s in town to get his son out of trouble, but upon seeing Jake, who had recently robbed him of some gold, he demands the sheriff to hand him over for some good old-fashioned vigilante justice. Just when things start to come to a head, the aliens show up, shooting up the town and snatching up townsfolk, including Woodrow’s son. But Jake’s alien wristband lights up and he’s able to take down one of the alien fighters.
And so, an uneasy alliance is forged between Jake and Woodrow as they track the alien pilot hoping it leads them to their captured loved ones. Along the way they run into stereotypical outlaws and stereotypical Native Americans, all the while spouting stereotypical Western cliches on stereotypical character arcs. And, of course, they all end up joining forces to take on the aliens, with Jake’s returned memory giving them a fighting chance and everyone overcoming their differences to respect one another with knowing nods.
For all its merits, including great scenery, cinematography, special effects, and soundtrack, the film’s biggest problem is that the imaginative set-up leads to a disappointingly predictable plot. To its credit, after reading the plot summary of the graphic novel it is based upon, it does seem like quite an improvement – no flying horses wearing anti-gravity horseshoes here. But in the end, it’s a serviceable action film with some fine acting, but a let-down with some glaring plot holes. Done over again, I would have waited to rent this one.
There are a variety of positive messages throughout the movie, the foremost being one of redemption. The town’s refreshingly honorable, heroic, and masculine parson at one point tells Jake, “God’s not worried about what you’ve done, He cares about what you’re doing now”. And all the flawed characters seem to take that advice, setting aside their prejudices to band together despite their cliched differences and checkered pasts. There are also strong messages about how greed can be one’s downfall, the value of loyalty and sacrifice, and for technologically superior aliens not to either leave their guns laying around or forget to take them into battle.
I forget how I score movies, but I’ll rate this one a generous 3 out of 5, mainly because I liked seeing Daniel Craig and Harrison Ford together, giving it their best.
Have you seen C&A? What did you think?