Cowboys & Aliens (2011)

I haven’t posted in a while because I’m working on longer pieces on Donnie Darko and Nine Lives, so I figured I might as well throw together a quick, non-analytical piece on Jon Favreau’s Cowboys & Aliens.

I went into this movie expecting two hours of Daniel Craig and the inimitable Harrison Ford grumbling and riding around on horses, and that is exactly what I got.  It begins with Daniel Craig waking up the desert without any memory of who he is and what he’s doing there.  After an (unsuccessful) attempt to break his mysterious metal bracelet off with a rock, caveman-style, he saddles up and rides into the nearest town.  There, he runs afoul of both the law (Keith Carradine, or Lundy from Dexter) and the town money, played by the inimitable and dear-to-my-heart Harrison Ford.  Of course, before events can really progress, the aliens swoop in and start abducting people, as they are wont to do.  Thus, Mr. Craig and Mr. Ford must lead the town, and some neighboring Apaches and outlaws, in an expedition to save their friends and defeat the aliens.

Mr. Craig has no dialogue for the first ten minutes of the movie, but he does an excellent job creating humor just through body language and slight facial twitches.  I’ve never thought of Daniel Craig as a particularly funny actor, but he turns out to have great timing on the one-liners, and he manages to generate a number of laughs just through stone-faced beat-downs.  He and Mr. Ford make a wonderful pair, grumbling and glaring at each other under dirty cowboy hats.  Harrison Ford has developed a wonderful persona at this stage in his career – the crotchety older man with a secret heart – and he plays it to perfection here, putting on a brave and grumpy front, but still allowing flickers of sorrow to cross his face when his son is abducted.

One element of this film I was not expecting was the stellar supporting cast.  Sam Rockwell is always such a treat in supporting roles, and he plays the “doctor” with a great sense of humor and a dash of pathos as well.  Paul Dano has a wonderful, if rather brief, turn as Harrison Ford’s delinquent son, and I was very excited to see Kelvin from LOST as the sweet but tough preacher.  Finally, Adam Beach, playing Harrison Ford’s Native American ward, brings some dimension to the crotchety old man.

This brings me to the most problematic part of the film:  Olivia Wilde’s character.  Now, I am all for a hot chick running around with a gun around her waist and kicking ass with Daniel Craig.  I also love Olivia Wilde.  I do, however, have some issues with the revelation (SPOILER ALERT) that her character is an alien.  While it explains her anachronistic, too-clean physical appearance, it also means there are no human female characters in the film who are not victims.  She’s meant to be the cool sidekick, gun-toting girl who doesn’t need saving, but all of that faux-feminism is undermined by the fact that she is actually not a woman.  I may be accused of splitting hairs here, but it’s just something that struck me.  One of the attractions of big-budget films for me is reading the gender stereotypes and messages they create with such broad strokes.  In this film, the only actually female characters are: Daniel Craig’s lost love and Sam Rockwell’s Latina wife, both victims stolen by the aliens.  Hence, there are no strong women in this film.  The “woman” part of her is just a body, an empty vessel to be used and discarded at any time.

Again, this is just how I read it.  I’m not even going to get into the various implications of the Native American portrayal in the film.  Aside from these issues, I thoroughly enjoyed Cowboys & Aliens.  Harrison Ford only makes one film a year these days, so it’s great when he’s in a decent one.   Seeing the almost-70-year-old Ford running around with a gun, leaping from horseback and wisecracking the whole time is worth the price of admission.  As far as escapist entertainment goes, you could do worse than Cowboys & Aliens. 

2 Comments

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2 responses to “Cowboys & Aliens (2011)

  1. Nice job on the quick recap and review, Di! I understand your frustration with Olivia Wilde’s character, especially in this context of a modern take on the Western that is already genre-bending to begin with. One might look to the C&A team to embrace the suspension of disbelief inherent in their unconventional premise, and allow a little anachronistic girl power, regardless of genre tropes.

    But to me the really fascinating thing would be to put Olivia Wilde’s character, and her big reveal, into a larger discussion of the film’s take on the human body and the Other. I think there’s a lot to be explored concerning injury/invasion of the human form, the similarities and differences between the aliens and the humans, and the imaginary boundaries that are given physical form in the stereotypes between the cowboys and the aliens. Shocking, huh, considering my thesis topic? 🙂

    • Haha sounds just like you! I actually was thinking of getting into a discussion of the body invasion as well, but I didn’t feel like writing a lot more 😛 To me, it seemed that Ella’s situation in particular made the female body even more of a form of currency and fetishization than in other patriarchal film, since her body is simply a vessel that she uses to obtain her goals. I agree it is also a good issue to think about from a cultural perspective as well, human vs. Other. The role of the Native Americans in the film also complicates the Human vs. Other schematic, since we have Human vs. Human as well.

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