Each Monday, I continue to share Western movie reviews as I go through the process of making my own 12 Westerns in 12 Months during 2020. I am watching these films not from an audience perspective but as a filmmaker, as a student of the genre.
Week Sixty Six: Cowboys & Aliens
Well, I finally did it. Avoiding it for years, because of recent recommendations, I watched one of the biggest budget Westerns of the 21st century. Regretfully, there isn’t much good to report about it.
My main issue with Cowboys & Aliens is the script, a poor, muddled attempt at a genuinely cool concept. When I saw Lindelof listed as one of the many writers, I was worried already; from Lost to Prometheus, he’s a overrated sci-fi writer who lazily concocts storylines with no intention of ever explaining them in a logical way. Sure enough, the internal logic of this movie never quite works: Why did Jake lose his memory for any reason other than a plot device? Why are the aliens mining gold beyond it being as “rare” for them as it is for us? Why is Olivia Wilder’s character unable to provide any more insight into the aliens than the thin story allows or produce any extra defense against their attacks? This doesn’t even begin the laundry list of plot holes. Example, if saving the people inside the alien ship is so urgent because they might not live for long, why is the final attack delayed till the next morning? If the aliens can’t see well during the day, why are all their attacks on the humans carried out with exact precision? Why if it takes several men dying to kill just one alien does the movie suddenly have the heroes killing them effortlessly?
These are the kind of questions raised by a poorly made film. Sure, you can turn off your brain and enjoy this but I’d ask anyone to tell me with a straight face that this movie is as good as the blockbusters of the 1990s that many of us enjoyed in our younger years. If it had been made then, it would have much more primitive special effects, but a refined story with a well-thought plot and well-drawn characters.
Speaking of those, everyone is cookie cutter. Sam Rockwell plays as typical of a Rockwell role as could be written. Dano regurgitates his performance from There Will Be Blood. It’s boring casting. Daniel Craig is wrong for the lead. Jake needed to be played by someone who could express more feeling. He’s great as Bond but his stone face isn’t good for this at all.
The only truly good thing about this movie, beyond a few cool inventions like the alien lassos, is Harrison Ford. He gives us one of his few late career performances with bite. He’s not just grouchy as usual but actually a little scary in the beginning and at least committed for the rest of the picture. If he’d only brought this kind of energy to his work in recent Star Wars and Blade Runner re-runs. If only he’d work this hard on a consistent basis. It was fun to see him engaged again.
Seen on HBO Channel.