This film would be a lot better if it was just called Cowboys. Before the aliens show up to cause all matter of destruction and chaos, the film follows Daniel Craig’s cowboy into a small, typical western town where he confronts a sheriff, tavern owners and most notably of all, Harrison Ford’s cowboy rancher.
Daniel Craig plays the “man with no name” style cowboy really well. He has the mood, the hundred yard stare and the swagger required to walk into bars and taverns and exude a confidence and arrogance that makes people think twice about messing with him. The opening act, where he is attacked in a bar fight, also demonstrates how well his Bond training has translated into the western setting.
Harrison Ford is also brilliant as the gruff, life-worn cowboy that rules the local town using fear and violence. He is introduced while torturing a cowboy who has managed to lose his cattle and its one of those great film devices, where you really want to see Craig’s “hero” confront Ford’s “villain.”
You could have a whole film around these two men. A film about their rivalry, their shared history and how Craig, with or without memory loss, fights against Ford’s oppressive rancher. They are ably supported by Sam Rockwell’s tavern owner, the under-appreciated and always brilliant Keith Carradine as the town Sheriff and Olivia Wilde, doing a decent enough job as the love interest/eye candy.
There is a cast and western story ready to be developed and played out, without the science-fiction angle. It wouldn’t be a groundbreaking, Unforgiven type western and probably wouldn’t match up to True Grit, which is the last decent western I’ve seen, but it would be good, with a great cast to help it along.
Unfortunately, the film chooses to introduce aliens and this addition damages the film. To be fair, the sequence where they destroy the town and the link between the aliens and Daniel Craig is discovered is very cool and brilliantly shot. All the effects in the film are very good and Jon Favreau is demonstrating that he can direct big budget and huge effects as well as anyone in Hollywood at the moment. It just doesn’t add enough to make it worthwhile.
The story becomes a hunt for kidnapped family members, a group of mismatched cowboys and town-folk thrown together to battle them which then results in a “last stand,” “against-the-odds” battle to complete the films finale. Its nothing new and placing the aliens against cowboys doesn’t add enough to make it unique.
There were two potential films here that I would have rather seen. A western starring Daniel Craig and Harrison Ford, battling each other in and around a small town caught up in the events. Not original but got great potential to be cool.
Alternatively, I would have liked a modern science-fiction, alien invasion movie, with Daniel Craig and Harrison Ford battling together against an advanced alien force. Cool guns, amazing effects and two great actors having fun.
Instead, we get a film that does western brilliantly but ruins it with science-fiction (and you won’t often hear me say that.) Adding cowboys doesn’t differentiate enough from Battle:LA (although it is a better film all round) or even Independence Day which is still the alien invasion film to beat.
Overall, a good summer blockbuster that should have been a much smaller and simpler film. Take out the aliens, spaceships and silly wrist-weapons and you have a western which stars two great actors pitted against each other. The film is at its best when Daniel Craig and Harrison Ford are being cowboys, not saving the Earth from invading aliens.
(1 – Awful, 2 – Average, 3 – Good, 4 – Great, 5! – Must See)