Critic’s Pick: Cowboys and Aliens

Courtesy photo

When God made Daniel Craig, He mixed two parts Steve McQueen to one part Paul “Crocodile Dundee” Hogan, garnished with a sprig of Charles Atlas, and served the whole business up ice-cold in light-blue, surf-kissed Bond hot pants. You know, for the ladies.

Just so you know your history.

More than four decades after that momentous birth, Jon Favreau — working, perhaps under divine inspiration — seized upon the notion of setting the baby-blue-peepered übermensch opposite the consummate (and consummately) American answer to 007, one Harrison J. Ford.

Well, this oughta be sweet. Right?

Cowboys and Aliens posits Craig as a stoic, amnesiac outlaw who awakes jarringly in the late-19th-century Arizona desert with [1] an impressive gash in his side, [2] a curious hunk of metal clamped to his wrist, and [3] nothing to guide him but fragmentary, highly color-saturated flashbacks of [A] a woman with whom he seems to have had something of a meaningful past, and [B] patchily unintelligible-but-still-horrific proceedings that it might not’ve been a bad idea to forget in the first place. Eventually, our (anti-?)hero wanders into a dusty, put-upon settlement, where good, honest citizens like Sam Rockwell’s Doc the bartender live under the heel of a wealthy ex-Civil War colonel Woodrow Dolarhyde (Ford). Shortly thereafter, the stranger — who, we’ll learn, is named Lonergan — runs afoul of Dolarhyde’s sneering whelp of son, Percy (played with relish and snide theatrical glee by Paul Dano), mightily impressing an ethereally striking young woman (the talented Wilde, who’s well on her way to becoming a star), but landing himself, roundabout, clapped in irons, set to pay for crimes he doesn’t remember committing. Which is right about when, as promised, the aliens show up. Townfolk are collected unceremoniously for experimentation, grudging alliances are forged; humans fight back. And, more specifically: We’re brought as close as we may ever get to a Bond/Indy team-up.

Cowboys and Aliens is, in many ways, exactly what you might expect, particularly if you’ve watched the trailer. It takes itself at least a mite more seriously than its title would suggest, which works. Care has been expended here; the filmmakers are fond of, or at least rather intensely interested in, the characters they present, as are the actors who portray them. Craig, as always, uses stillness to maximum advantage. Rockwell, a personal favorite, is as entertaining and authentic as ever. Ford has his best role in years, making it touching and memorable, seeming perfectly at home. Walton Goggins and Clancy Brown are standouts as well, as is the young Noah Ringer.

Cowboys, as a whole, is effective and solidly made, if not especially profound or revolutionary. The effects aren’t mind-blowing (though there’s some nice creature work), but certainly do the job. The story, and its development, are better than they had to be. It’s a ride, and an engaging one — a welcome reminder, in case you somehow need one, that summer’s here.


Cowboys and Aliens

Dir. Jon Favreau; writ. Roberto Orci, Alex Kurtzman, Damon Lindelof, Mark Fergus, Hawk Ostby, Steve Oedekerk; feat. Daniel Craig, Harrison Ford, Olivia Wilde, Sam Rockwell, Adam Beach, Paul Dano, Keith Carradine, Walton Goggins, Noah Ringer. (PG-13)

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