Cowboys & Aliens Review

It is said that "too much of a good thing is a bad thing" and that is never more true than with Cowboys & Aliens.  Some of the best creative forces combined to create an instantly forgettable genre mash-up.

Cowboys & Aliens follows Jake Lonergan (Daniel Craig doing a pretty good Man With No Name impression), a man who can't remember where he came from or why he has a weird, otherworldly device attached to his wrist.  He soon begins to remember when alien ships attack a local town and takes captive some of its citizens.  A rescue crew goes out to get their people back.

Cowboys & Aliens is at its best when it's trying to be The Man With No Name Trilogy or Aliens.  Too bad that only happens 10% of the time and never together (which is how this film should have worked).  Yes, Daniel Craig does a great Clint Eastwood and the aliens in this film might be the scariest on screen since the one from Alien but it seemed director Jon Favreau (Iron Man) and the screenwriters never knew what they had.

Too show how much potential this film had let's look at the film's cast and crew.  The film is directed by Jon Favreau who made some good-to-great films with Elf and Iron Man.  The film is written by Alex Kurtzman and Roberto Orci (of J.J. Abram's Star Trek fame), Damon Lindelof (the co-creator of one of this past decade's most important tv series, Lost) and Mark Fergus and Hawk Ostby (co-writers of the Oscar-nominated for screenwriting Children of Men).  The film is produced by legendary producers and filmmakers Brian Grazar and Ron Howard and by the bearded one himself, Steven Spielberg.  The film stars two actors who have portrayed three of the most famous film characters ever Daniel Craig (James Bond) and Harrison Ford (Indiana Jones and Han Solo).  The film has one of the biggest breakout actresses of the last few years in Olivia Wilde.  Most importantly, the film has two of the best character actors ever in Sam Rockwell and Walton Goggins.  What could go wrong?  Well almost everything.

The script is a huge problem and it is quite obvious that the amount of writers on it (only 5 were credited but it is said that around 10 people actually worked on the script) ruined it.  Many of the events don't make sense.  Some things that are important to the plot are never explained.  Characters randomly vanish into thin air with people looking directly at them (and yet this vanishing skill is never explained).  Worst of all the script thinks its sense of redemption in its characters is greater than it actually is.

This, however, does not mean Jon Favreau can walk away from this one clean as well.  Many of the scenes in this film are extremely confusing.  A lot of that can be attributed to the script, but in some of the more visual scenes (especially one involving Olivia Wilde's character and a fire) can only be faulted to Favreau who clearly could not handle this film at all.

The acting is, however, fine.  Craig is a great lead and I hope he signs onto a good western film because he is perfect for the genre.  Harrison Ford plays a grumpier version of himself which is great when he has a good script (like in Morning Glory) but he can only just squeak by with this one.  Olivia Wilde is only okay as well as the creative forces betray her character most of all.  All in all the leads of the film are just okay, but it is the character actors that rule this film.  Sam Rockwell is always a highlight of any film he is in.  This one is no different as he plays a skittish saloon owner.  Clancy Brown brings enough heft to the role of the guide-like figure to Craig's character that it never falls into cliche.  Walton Goggins steals his two scenes, but unfortunately he is in only two scenes.  Keith Carradine and Adam Beach are typecast (as a sheriff and an indian) but they are so good at what they do that you can't complain.  My only complain with these performances is that they don't get much screen time.

Cowboys & Aliens had so much potential but it is all washed away by a mass of a script, some poor direction, and the failure to actually use some great actors.



  1. Great review. I haven't seen this one yet, and am thinking I might skip it (or wait for video), based on some of the problems that you mention here.

    One question: I notice in your Oscar predictions that you have Cowboys & Aliens as a nominee for best Visual Effects, and those were posted before the review. Now that you've seen it, do you think the aliens are good enough to get the film in, or will the script and director problems overshadow that?

  2. The reviews will definitely hurt its chances of getting nominated. I think The Tree of Life and Hugo (if it is well received) have better chances of getting nominated now. However, it is definitely still in the running. It is a Spielberg produced film with effects by ILM. Hereafter was the same and snuck in last year.

  3. Good to hear. I dropped it quite a bit in my last set of predictions, but then realized afterward that I was reacting to the overall reviews and might not be thinking enough of the effects specifically.

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