Daniel Craig don’t say much in Cowboys & Aliens, and that’s because director Jon Favreau (Iron Man) and his team of screenwriters (which includes a few veterans of TV’s Lost) have created a reluctant hero for the man o.k.a. James Bond to play in this kinda-exciting-kinda-not cinematic gamble.
Based on a graphic novel published not all that long ago, the movie mashes up two quite-different genres – the cowboys movies my grandpa and I used to watch on Saturday afternoons and the aliens-attack movies I came to love going to the multiplex to watch growing up – and delivers a promising premise, with a matching first half to boot.
It’s the second half that underwhelms, but I’ll get to that in a sec.
Craig plays Jake Loner...well, he plays a man who doesn’t know who he is.
He wakes up in the middle of the desert, beaten and badly bruised on his side. He’s bleeding and shoeless. When three men on horseback find him and threaten to take him in, he quickly dispatches them. He may be hurt, but he’s still to be reckoned with, y’ see.
Oh, and he’s also wearing a strange metal bracelet. And he don’t know how it got on his wrist or what it does, or how he got there. All he really knows for sure is English.
With not memory of anything, the man heads to the town of Absolution. It’s 1873 Arizona, and the town folk don’t take too kind to strangers. But this man has a certain way about him...and he’s quickly caught the attention of a pretty, and mysterious, lady named Ella (Olivia Wilde), but more about her in a hot sec.
Absolution is under the so-called protection of the iron-fisted Col. Dolarhyde (Harrison Ford), a man who is all gruff and to be feared, alright, for he straddles the law something wild. Meanwhile, the man, we find out, is named Jake Lonergan, and he’s wanted for all kinds of crimes, including murder. Oh, and Dolarhyde wants him, too, and what Jake took from him. The rub is the cowboy doesn’t see it that way at all since he can’t recall any of it (perhaps, he, too, caught a glimpse of – Self-ref Alert! – Ryan Gosling’s abs?)
The bigger problem Jake, Dolarhyde et al. have is Absolution is a mark for aliens from space. These “demons” are attacking the town, creating chaos and snatching people up and flying away with them, and the strange man with the even stranger bracelet is the only one who can defend them.
Ella, at least, seems to know this very well, so she tries to help Jake remember so he can save not only himself but humankind. He is the key to survival. But why? (Like heck if I’m gon’ tell you.)
Little by little, we see Jake remember bits and pieces. The flashbacks offer mesmerizing shots of Craig’s piercing blue eyes deep in thought. The actor may not say a lot in Cowboys & Aliens, but he sure looks fine in ’em leather chaps...and rolling in the dirt...and saving the day.
Only thing is I wish there had been more action in this one.
It’s a bit of a hoot and a half to see what amounts to incongruity – although why would aliens ever attack us only in modern times? – on screen, but what’s rather not that much fun is to spend what feels like a looong horse ride in between battles.
The shots of Craig in various stages of western studliness can only do so much (and they are the reason for my rounded-up rating). Sometimes, it seems it might be best to leave genres very well alone...or, at the very least, have a clearer blend.
Cowboys & Aliens is a bit murky.
My Rating ***
Photo: DreamWorks Pictures.