Jon Favreau is proving to be quite an asset in the cannon of actors turned director. His last five films have been mostly airing on the impressive and, more to the fact, uncontrollably enjoyable. I say mostly, because Zathura was like a sideways kick in the Gulliver. His latest outing, Cowboys and Aliens pulls on all the lessons learnt from his recent catalogue of filmage wonder and produces something quite grown up.
Cowboys and Aliens tells the story of Jake Lonergan (Daniel Craig), an outlaw who wakes up in the desert with a headache the size of your fist, a gash in his side and a mysterious clunky slab of metal attached to his arm. (Oh yeah, and he smokes…Cigarettes!) After making his way into a nearby town, Jake meets with the local yokels and soon finds himself hunted at the behest of every lawman and his mother. All of a sudden strange lights appear in the sky, and before long things turn all War of the Worlds. Jake’s funky new bracelet comes to life, things go bang and there is an alien spaceship crashed into the dirt with a chunking hole in the side. What follows is an atypical run of the classic John Ford ‘search and rescue’ western….with added rock and roll.
One thing that made Iron Man so darn enjoyable was its complete lack of care. It didn’t care who or what you thought Iron Man was; it just showed you what he is. The farcical nature of the subject matter and whimsical charm of Robert Downey Jr was like lightning in a bottle. So from the trailers to Cowboys and Aliens, it is easy to assume that Favreau would be giving us Wild Wild West meets Independence Day. But instead, what we end up with is The Searchers meets District 9. Don’t misinterpret what I am saying here, because when the aliens come out to play, they really DO come out to play! But the backbone of the film is that of personal loss, emotional toil and violence…an extremely unexpected amount of violence. As the film evolves, we get to see that this really isn’t a film about Cowboys and Aliens, it’s a film about Nazis and Genocide. And never is that more evident than in the final act of the film. So what am I saying here? Well I guess my point is that Favreau is still holding firmly to his roots with the superficial aesthetic of Cowboys and Aliens, but I feel that the presence of Spielberg and Ron Howard as producers has helped the barrel chested director mature the subject matter.
All cast members are pretty solid - from the weasel shaped Paul Dano to Daniel Craig pulling his best Clint Eastwood, everyone on show hear adds to rather than distracts from the films charm. Despite her obvious beauty, Olivia Wilde is somewhat too robotic as Ella, making her feel more unsettling than bewitching. Even so, she proves a perfect match for Craig’s Lonergan. But my tip of the ten gallon hat goes to Harrison Ford. His turn as snarly ranch tyrant Woodrow Dolarhyde gives the film its much needed core of comedy, threat and heart. Every nuance of his performance is geared to pushing his co-stars up a notch, which in the end proves for great entertainment.
Cowboys and Aliens is good honest filmmaking that only missteps once or twice - Craig alien plane surfing!? But after you can get past the fact that this is more about Cowboys than Aliens, you will see that Favreau has provided us with something quite touching...with a healthy dollop of rock and roll.
8 out of 10