Thursday Night Movie Club
Cowboys and Aliens
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Release Date: 29 July 2011

Director: Jon Favreau
Daniel Craig
Harrison Ford
Olivia Wilde
Sam Rockwell
Adam Beach
Paul Dano
Keith Carradine
Clancy Brown
Walton Goggins
Abigail Spencer
Noah Ringer
Buck Taylor
Ana de la Reguera
Jake Lonergan
Woodrow Dolarhyde
Ella Swenson
Nat Colorado
Percy Dolarhyde
Sheriff John Taggart
Emmett Taggart
Wes Claiborne
Cowboys and Aliens movie poster #1 movie poster #2 movie poster #3
Cowboys and Aliens. That is one heck of a movie title. This movie is either ridiculously bad or amazingly good. The surprise is that the movie is very good. Take two famous actors, Daniel Craig (James Bond) and Harrison Ford (Indiana Jones), put them into a western town that is attacked by aliens and let the fun begin.

The better movies have a simple premise: start in the middle of the story, set up a series of questions, then use present events and flashbacks to answer the questions. An unknown man (Craig) wakes up in the middle of nowhere. He is beaten and bruised. As he wipes the sweat off his brow, the man finds some weird contraption stuck on his wrist. No matter how hard he tries, he cannot get the device off. A trio of gunslingers arrive on the scene and recognize the man as Jake Lonergan, a noted outlaw. The gunmen are out to collect the bounty. Lonergan is faster and meaner. The gunmen are no match for him.

Lonergan makes his way to the small town of Absolution. Once there, he runs into further trouble. Everyone in town knows who he is except him. Lonergan has no idea who he is, where he is from, and more importantly, what happened to him. His only recollection is a brunette woman, but he doesn't know who she is or how he knows her.

There is one thing Lonergan knows and he is good at: killing. He tangles with Percy Dolarhyde (Dano), son of the town's cattle baron Woodrow Dolarhyde (Ford). Lonergan does not appreciate the way Percy treats the towns people. Lonergan brutally teaches Percy a lesson he won't soon forget. This doesn't endear him to Woodrow. When the Sheriff Taggert comes to arrest Lonergan, another fist fight breaks out before Lonergan is knocked unconscious.

Meanwhile, something strange is happening on the range. Some cowpokes watching over a herd are getting ready to bed down for the night. They are suddenly attacked. All of the cattle are slaughtered. Needless to say Dolarhyde is not thrilled with this downturn in his fortunes. He tortures the sole survivor because he doesn't believe the story the survivor spins. He was attacked by bright lights in the sky. They are in the middle of nowhere and there isn't a cloud in the sky. What lights?

The arrest of Lonergan brings Dolarhyde to town. The sheriff has Lonergan chained in a wagon ready to move him to a larger town for his trial. Dolarhyde will have none of it. The sheriff and Dolarhyde are at odds with each other.

Up to now, director Jon Favreau has crafted a very interesting spaghetti western that Sergio Leone would be proud of. But the title is still "Cowboys and Aliens". This is a clever take on many young boy's childhood pretend game of Cowboys and Indians. The movie is based on a graphic novel that turns western conventions on its ear.

Just as the confrontation between Dolarhyde and the sheriff is about to turn ugly, bright lights suddenly appear in the night sky flying low over the mountains. The townspeople are mesmerized by the lights. They have no clue what could be making them. By the time they realize they are in grave danger, it is way to late to flee. The lights are alien space crafts that swoop down on the town. The ships send out lassos and begin snatching anything that moves.

Ah, but something even stranger is happening to Lonergan. The bracelet begins to light up and a grid-like sighting mechanism extends from the device. Stranger yet, Lonergan finds a way to actually fire the device blowing a hole in the wagon and escaping into the carnage. Standing next to Dolarhyde, Lonergan takes careful aim and shoots down one of the alien ships. No words are said between the two adversaries but the looks on their faces is priceless. It's a cross between "What the..." and "You must be joking."

Another theme has just been developed that continues throughout the remainder of the film. Adversaries must set aside their differences and come together for the common good. Lonergan remembers that the woman haunting his dreams was abducted the same way as the townspeople. Dolarhyde's son Percy was taken. The two now have a common cause.

There is another problem. The town has been decimated. There aren't a lot of people left to mount any kind of counter attack. Their best option is to track the flight path of the ships and devise some sort of a plan later. Racial inequality, mistrust, hatred, fear and the subtle difference between good and evil all come into play. The posse from Absolution are in need of an army, a very large, well-equipped army would be nice too. But, this is still the middle of nowhere.

The posse accidentally stumble upon Lonergan's outlaw gang hiding in the hills. They aren't too happy to see Lonergan. He stole the money from a robbery to settle down with a woman. The only problem is that Lonergan has no idea what they are talking about. The situation doesn't get any better after the posse escapes only to be taken prisoner by a tribe of Native American Indians. The Indians have no reason to trust the white men. They wouldn't mind if the white men were wiped out by the alien menace. However, the aliens don't care who they abduct. The only thing that unites the posse from Absolution, the outlaws and the Indians is the alien invaders. No body likes it, but there is no other option but to form an alliance and try, somehow, to defeat the aliens.

The movie gets even more interesting as a rough plan takes shape. The outlaws know a thing or two about demolition and blowing things up, like bank vaults. The Indians know how to set up an ambush as well as moving with stealth through the desert. Lonergan has a weapon that can kill the invaders so it is important that he remain intact as long as possible. He is their only real chance of defeating the aliens.

In the capable hands of Seth Rogen or Adam Sandler, this movie would have been a comedic nightmare. Instead, Favreau, Craig and Ford keep the movie grounded in the lore of other movie westerns. There aren't any open-mouthed dumb stares from the actors. No stupid, comic one-liners either. The movie is played straight despite the unbelievable setup. If the audience can believe aliens attacking the planet during the fourth of July holiday, why not aliens attacking the planet in the 1800's.

But there is also a major flaw with Cowboys and Aliens. Even with actors with the caliber of Daniel Craig and Harrison Ford, even with Jon Favreau who also directed Iron-Man, many movie lovers may stay away from this film just because of the title. Afterall, how can a movie titled Cowboys and Aliens be anything but a goofy comedy. It isn't.

In case you were wondering, Lonergan does regain his memory and all of the questions posed in the opening scenes are answered. Enjoy!