Monday, September 5, 2011

Cowboys and Aliens

I've been excited about Cowboys and Aliens for a long while now. I saw the trailer for the first time almost immediately after it was released, and the many and varied elements of my nerdy personality all seemed to rejoice together.

My brain when.

Jon Favreau directing Daniel Craig and Harrison Ford as cowboys fending their land and people against aliens? What's that you say IMDB, it also stars Paul Dano, Keith Carradine and my beloved ever-dancing Sam Rockwell? Oh, pants happy joy and fuck me gently with a chainsaw, THAT is something I want to see.

Anyway, I happened to be in Santiago when the film was released. Obviously, I was determined to see it, as was my fellow-Melbournian Santiago partner-in-crime, Jesse. Unfortunately, my determination and love of Westerns was no match for the student protests that were happening all over Santiago that week. The area directly surrounding our hostel was almost entirely shut down, even the supermarket hesitant to open their doors to residents. O'Higgins, the main road near us, was completely deserted, with the popo milling around bearing riot shields, waiting for things to occur. I'm referring to my second-last day in Santiago in what I'm describing. By that stage we were fairly accustomed to the stench of tear gas, if that's any indication of the frequency of demonstrations.

Why I didn't see Cowboys and Aliens

But I digress. I'm in Australia now (sadly enough), and yesterday was father's day. As such I was quick to say yes when my dad and brother asked if I wanted to come see none other than Cowboys and Aliens with them. Well, shit yeah guys. Shit YEAH

Was it worth all the anticipation, the excitement though? Ehh...sorta. 
A little. 
A bit. 

Look, the fact is that Cowboys and Aliens could have been amazing. It should have been amazing. It should have been the best kind of popcorn blockbuster fun. It's cowboys fighting aliens, for poo's sake. With that cast, and with Jon Favreau at the helm, of course you couldn't be blamed for expecting big things. Things started promisingly enough too. Daniel Craig wakes up in the desert, alone and with a big metal thing on his wrist. He promptly sets about Getting It Done in the default state of Badass he occupies for the film's entirety. Kick ass, acquire boots, vest, horse and hat. He rides to the next town, that of Absolution. There, we meet the Doc-cum-barkeep (Sam Rockwell), the Sheriff (Keith Carradine), the town's preacher, and the spoilt, obnoxious son (Paul Dano) of Colonel Dollarhyde, the mean sunvabitch whose cattle keeps Absolution afloat. At least twice I hissed "Shiiieeeeeet!" to my dad and brother, signs of my wholehearted approval of Daniel Craig's various acts of badassery in the first ten minutes or so of the film. Like I said, promising enough of a start. 

Unfortunately, the warning lights began to flash early on. No less than five writers working on one film is never something that fills me with ease. The fruits (or lack thereof) of their combined efforts reared their ugly heads soon enough. The dialogue ranges from terrible to awful. None of those five writers were able to figure out how to script a conversation? How to make the HURRR Things Characters Say sound vaguely natural? Jon Favreau, you couldn't see the difference between these awkward, uncomfortable exchanges and what worked so well in Iron Man? To all of this, 'apparently not' is the answer. As we're introduced to Colonel Dollarhyde (Harrison Ford), I cringed. After the aliens attack for the first time, not even Sam Rockwell could make "WHAT IS THAT THING? IS MY WIFE IN THERE?" sound okay. 

As Cowboys and Aliens continues, Jake Lonergan (Craig) and Dollarhyde lead a band of Absolution's townfolk on a journey to reclaim their kin from the clutches of the aliens. Of note in the search party are the sheriff's grandson and Olivia Wilde as Ella, a mysterious woman who seems to know something about Lonergan's past. 

Cowboys and Aliens is full of opportunity for badassery, for riding through the Western countryside on horseback away from foes, towards battle. Daniel Craig exudes tortured hero cool, is exactly the kind of bad-guy turned good that carries a good Western. Helooks great in a vest and hat. Looks great without them too. Harrison Ford has some good moments, but for the most part seems to be in "old gruff tough guy" auto-pilot mode. The ingredients are there, but they're either underused, or not used at all. The problem is, I didn't really give a shit about any of the characters, or the goings on. Which is fucking unfortunate. I didn't really care about Dollarhyde finding his son, didn't care about the little kid grandson of the Sheriff, didn't care about the relationship between Lonergan and Ella. 

Getting it Done, but not quite enough.

Sure, there were some enjoyable action sequences. Yeah, of course there were. There were some good shoot outs. And hell, I'm not about to diss any scene where Daniel Craig is sans shirt. But I was let down. I was looking forward to seeing how a small Western town and its inhabitants would react to having these aliens, futuristic shiny space ships flying about, shooting up their lives. That would have been interesting. I wanted to know more about the Doc's story, a man who'd come to the town seeking a dream but had been let down. I wanted to know more about the Sheriff's family. I was hopeful when the local Indian crew turned up, but again was let down by how little the film delved into the tensions between Dollarhyde and the chief, as well as how that culture would have reacted to the presence of aliens. 

Maybe this is all a result of my love of Westerns. Maybe I wanted less alien and more cowboy. Maybe my expectations were too high. I was let down, sure, but I expect others will probably get a hell of a kick out of the goings-on. My dad loved it. It was a more than serviceable popcorn romp, but I wanted even more than that. Craig and Ford are almost perfectly cast, I just wish that they were rather more fleshed out. I wish the aliens were a little more interesting (They want gold? That's it?). Hell, I wish it had been more of a Western. But I guess the Western is a dying (if not already dead) genre, and maybe my thinking was a little more wishful. 

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