Set in sparsely populated 1875 New Mexico, the film starts with Jake Lonergan (Daniel Craig) waking up in the middle of nowhere, injured but with amnesia. Stuck on his wrist is a strange metal bracelet, one that is built of technology far beyond what he’s ever seen. Three ruffians show up and try to jump him, saying, “Son, this just ain’t your lucky day,” but they’re wrong. It’s their unlucky day, and Jake demonstrates he hasn’t forgotten his fighting skills.
Heading into the sleepy, impoverished town of Absolution, he has a scuffle with local bully Percy (Paul Dano) and ends up in jail. Just as they’re about to leave for federal court in Santa Fe, Percy’s dad, Col. Dolarhyde (Harrison Ford), appears, followed by alien spacecraft.
The juxtaposition of the mythic Old West with the technology and frightening visage of the aliens are at the heart of this movie, and Iron Man director Jon Favreau doesn’t disappoint. The creatures are reminiscent of Predator, with some internal plumbing all their own.
We know the cowboys are going to win in this epic battle against the aliens, but will the Indians help? That’s a central theme in the film: In times of trouble, disparate people band together to fight a shared enemy.
Lonergan finds out that the chunky metal bracelet stuck on his arm is actually a weapon, and he manages to shoot down one of the alien craft from the sky. The creature from the alien vessel bolts into the scrub and Lonergan, Col. Dolarhyde, Mexican worker Nat Colorado (Adam Beach), saloon barkeep Doc (Sam Rockwell), the town preacher Meacham (Clancy Brown), and the beautiful and mysterious Ella (Olivia Wilde) join a posse to track it down.
While the narrative is surprisingly well assembled, there are still some core questions that left this reviewer a bit befuddled. Chief among them is why the aliens kidnapped and enslaved humans in the first place. The explanation given made no sense, and given the dramatic disparity between the human and alien firepower (think a bow and arrow against a fighter jet), why don’t the aliens just wipe everyone out?
Harrison Ford was playing his recent type:
crusty old guy. Craig was similarly wooden in his role, but as the 21st-century stand-in for legendary Western actor and tough guy Yul Brynner, his role was more suited to someone with minimal emotions. Young actor Noah Ringer overshadowed them both as Emmett Taggart, the grandson of Sheriff Taggart.
In the heat of summer, there’s a place in the cinema for a fun, mindless action adventure, and with the combined talents of producer Steven Spielberg, director Favreau, James Bond (Craig) and Indiana Jones (Ford), Cowboys & Aliens delivers. Recommended.