09 August 2011

4 Aug - "I don't know much about boats, but I would say that one's upside down."

Cowboys & Aliens (2011)
dir. Jon Favreau (Elf, 2003)

Daniel Craig (Elizabeth, 1998)
Harrison Ford (Star Wars: Episode IV - A New Hope, 1977)
Olivia Wilde
Clancy Brown (The Burrowers, 1986)
Paul Dano (Little Miss Sunshine, 2006)
Chris Browning (3:10 to Yuma, 2007)
Adam Beach (Smoke Signals, 1998)
Ana de la Reguera (Nacho Libre, 2006)
Noah Ringer (The Last Airbender, 2010)
Toby Huss (Vegas Vacation, 1997)
Walton Goggins (Shanghai Noon, 2000)
David O'Hara (Braveheart, 1995)
Raoul Trujillo (Black Robe, 1991)
David Midthunder (The Burrowers, 1986)
Charlene Adams

One thing that I decided during this movie is that Sam Rockwell has got to be my #1 actor crush, which seems silly when there's a whole bevy of Adonises to choose from but, Lord help me, I've got a thing for character actors and Sam Rockwell always plays that clueless and sort of sleazy guy and it just kills me. I'm silly.

On the point, I thoroughly enjoyed watching Cowboys & Aliens, but it also failed to meet many of my expectations, and to be sure I had a lot of expectations going into this movie.

My first thought was that the core concept was very clever, because western films encapsulate the idealized values of the perfect American citizen. Independent, hardworking, honorable, etc. I firmly believe that in our (white American) hearts, we all desperately want to be cowboys because it represents a human of higher quality than we see ourselves to be (City Slickers in particular made a profit off this theme). Alien movies, on the other hand, are about xenophobia, protecting the interior from frightening and strange external forces and entities. Who better to protect America from scary aliens than the ideal American everyman/hero?

To this effect, I expected Cowboys & Aliens to use more of the motifs and thematic elements typical of the traditional western narrative. There was some of that: the decaying mining town, the impotence of official law enforcement, but this was also a very modern movie, especially in the development of relationships.

I was reading some internet articles about the movie and I have to say that they made some good points. The first thing is that the pairing of Harrison Ford and Daniel Craig should have overwhelmed us with the glorious union of their manliness, but the dynamic between the two actors fizzled. They didn't actually share very much screentime. They didn't work well together, and what should have been a friendship didn't really feel very fraternal at all. Big fail on that.

Also, I don't think Olivia Wilde's character should have been in the movie. Her presence as a love interest was unnecessary, and detracted from the emotional weight of Jake's wife's death via abduction, which was actually a very disturbing scene. Wilde's brief backstory was outlandish (in a science-ficiton movie, no less) and I don't really need to know where the aliens came from or why they are on Earth or why they are kidnapping and killing humans (to learn our weaknesses? Really? We are soft meaty bodies. Is it necessary to know more than one way to skin a cat?)

Part of the advantage of the old west setting should be that the audience can engage in the bafflement of the characters. Bright lights? Flying machines?? Are they demons?

On the other hand, old time people had to confront insane levels of novelty all of the time. What if you just saw a giant anteater walking around one day, and nothing you had ever experienced you before had prepared you for the experience. They are crazy looking and you would just have to deal with that. You want to know why old timey people believed in monsters? It's because they saw monsters all of the time.
So I think that Jake Lonergan and Corporal Dolarhyde would be a lot less interested in learning about who the aliens are and what they want, than figuring out where they live and how to kill them. I think we would have been better served with a little mystery than a naked Olivia Wilde explaining how she took human on this planet to make certain the invaders would not destroy the earth as well.

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