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Reviews
STAR RATINGS EXPLAINED
Unmissable 5 Stars
Excellent 4 Stars
Good 3 Stars
Poor 2 Stars
Tragic 1 Star

POSTER ART
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FILM DETAILS
Certificate
12A
Cast
Daniel Craig
Paul Dano
Harrison Ford
Olivia Wilde
Sam Rockwell.
Directors
Jon Favreau.
Screenwriters
Alex Kurtzman
Roberto Orci
Damon Lindelof
Hawk Ostby
Mark Fergus.
Running Time
118 minutes

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Cowboys & Aliens
Man is the warmest place to Rawhide


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Plot
Arizona, 1873. A man (Craig) awakens in the sparse hinterland of one-horse town Absolution, with no memory, a weird wound and a strange manacle on one wrist. Early on his journey of self-rediscovery, he discovers he’s wanted criminal Jake Lonergan, and that he was abducted by “demons” — like so many of Absolution’s inhabitants. Together with town boss Woodrow Dolarhyde (Ford), he and a posse set out to free their kidnapped loved ones from the strange creatures from “above the stars”...


Review
Cowboys & Aliens
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Cowboys & Aliens is the second of two mavericks among 2011’s summer-blockbuster herd — the other being its Paramount-funded, Spielberg-produced sibling Super 8 (which, interestingly, also centres around retro-smalltown alien abduction). While based (loosely) on a comic book, Cowboys & Aliens hardly has the following Marvel-movie newcomers Thor and Captain America enjoy, and even poor old Green Lantern was a better-known title. This is neither sequel nor reboot, bravely striving for rear-ends on multiplex seats with barely any ‘brand awareness’ (ugh) and a negligible built-in audience.

It also comes as part of a distinctly dodgy subgenre: the weird Western. Wild Wild West (steampunk Western) failed big back in ’99; Jonah Hex (supernatural steampunk Western) died on its prosthetics-marred ass only last year. You’d have to go back as far as Near Dark to find a satisfying and successful example. Nope, summer 2011 seems hardly the smartest time to go West.

So here’s some good news: Cowboys & Aliens is no turkey in a ten gallon hat. Whether it finds its audience remains to be seen, but in a world where charmless robots fisting each other break box-office records, it sure deserves to. Directed by Jon Favreau, as much harking back to 2005’s overlooked Zathura as his Iron Man, the film puts its not-too-many human characters front and centre, offering a straightforward, linear plot, lean rather than bloated and which, while skipping over a few gaping holes, largely makes sense. It delivers, along the way, pleasing action sequences during which you can actually make out what’s going on — mainly because it’s not in murky, motion-blurring 3D. The visual effects meanwhile assist rather than burden the storytelling, adding to the atmosphere rather than sucking it out. It’s not groundbreaking, it’s not perfect, but it’s traditional and charming, and that counts for a lot.

It also feels refreshingly unsterilised. The lead character smokes. There is a scene in which a child is given a knife as a gift, and later uses it to stab an alien to death (er, hooray for knives!). The whole thing has a gritty, sweaty, blood-smeared look, recalling the revisionist oaters of the late ’60s onwards rather than the crisper offerings of the genre’s golden age. This ain’t aliens versus Shane; it’s aliens versus The Man With No Name and The Wild Bunch.

There are also, at times, moments of horror. One scene involves a conscious woman being dissected by one of Favreau’s slimy monsters (think weaponised frog crossed with cockroach), before it incinerates her from the face down. That’s the most surprising thing about the film: it’s more gritty and harsh than the daft but enticing title suggests. Bullets, arrows, spears, teeth and claws puncture flesh with gouts of blood, wounds need sewing up and spent gun barrels sear skin. One action beat even sees an alien being messily offed by dynamite… tethered to a dagger.

As Clint-esque amnesiac bad-hat Jake Lonergan, Daniel Craig is an intense presence, laconic, simmering and brutal, a creature of bone-snapping action rather than whip-smart wit. Alongside him we have Harrison Ford’s town-bullying ranch-man who gear-shifts from leathery grump mode at the film’s start to something with a glimmer of his Dr. Jones twinkle. His occasional interjections prove welcome, including one which it’s tempting to suggest was the actor’s own reaction to the script, when it’s revealed at a campfire conflab that the green, bug-eyed interlopers are on Earth because there’s gold in that thar planet: “That’s ridiculous,” he growls, “what are they gonna do with it? Buy things?”

Even so, it’s a dour pairing, both characters defined by loss, tragedy and inky-dark pasts rather than upbeat, go-get-’em swagger. There’s none of the Iron Man films’ sense of irreverence here — just grim people dealing with a grim situation. There’s little lightness from the supporting cast, either. Olivia Wilde is a shimmering, otherworldly presence in a multi-layered yet underwritten romantic-interest role (see also: Tron Legacy), Sam Rockwell jitters and whines as a rattled barkeep and Adam Beach pines for a father-figure as one of Ford’s stooges. We’d never ask for a mugging comic-relief character to be shoe-horned in, or that everyone should play it with their tongue in their cheek, but a bit more levity from the edges would have complemented the hard core well.


Verdict
A simple entertainment in a summer of overcomplicated disappointments. Also much harder-edged than you may have expected.


Reviewed by Dan Jolin


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Your Reviews

Average user rating for Cowboys & Aliens
Empire Star Rating

missed opportunity

This is ultimately a big disappointment,as latter reviews have mentioned..Empire picks up on the decent acting, but is far too lenient on the film's many flaws to be honest. The first 20/30 mins of cowboys is quite intriguing, and sees craig,ford et al in fine form, with the promise of some challenging characters to be fleshed out. Unfortunately, the tone switches to a very silly invasion/kidnapping movie, with questionable alien effects and characters changing motives and allegiances all too... More

Empire User Rating

Posted by cadz at 07:52, 08 November 2011 | Report This Post


Very disspointed with the story and the action were so weak ... More

Empire User Rating

Posted by Ciaran McDaid at 22:47, 29 October 2011 | Report This Post


Weird

Is it just me or is this film just a tat rediculous? It starts off as an enjoyable western, and then in come the aliens...Instead of making this film funny and give it the 'Men in Black' overhaul, the producers take themselves way too serious and it becomes Judgement Day meets True Grit in a very odd cocktail that totally didn't work for me: This sort of film needs, just like Superman The Movie, a larger than life 'cartoonish' approach, while you still want to suspend your disbelief for two hour... More

Empire User Rating

Posted by Saxsymbol at 22:21, 28 September 2011 | Report This Post


"A simple entertainment in a summer of overcomplicated disappointments." - I don`t even know, I think I`d rather prefer the overcomplicated ones... "offering a straightforward, linear plot, lean rather than bloated and which, while skipping over a few gaping holes, largely makes sense" - does not really sound convincing ... More

Empire User Rating

Posted by szoni at 14:54, 14 September 2011 | Report This Post


BOND, INDY AND THE WILDE WILDE WEST.

The idea of cowboys and aliens is intruiging, the thing I didn't like about this movie was that the aliens got little focus. Well other than that this was pretty entertaining. Jon Favreau has become known to us as the hot-head in "I Love You Man.", the driver guy in "iron man." and the director of Iron Man and the avengers trailer *cough* I mean Iron Man 2. Now the story with Cowboys and Aliens is a story I quite liked. Its a cowboy movie generally until weird shit starts... More

Empire User Rating

Posted by lewisb548 at 17:30, 13 September 2011 | Report This Post


RE: This was rubbish!!

What? People still like Harrison Ford? ... More

Posted by BigKovacs at 21:51, 07 September 2011 | Report This Post


This was rubbish!!

Come on Empire!! This was absolute crap! Stiff perfomances all the way, and dull action... A 10 foot alien who can knock down a horse gets knocked down by an Apache with a club? Please... A handfull og cowboys and apaches would have no chance against a small 21 century Seal unit, let alone a highly advanced alien race with high powered futuristic zappers... And that's just the tip of the iceberg... This should have gone straight to DVD... ... More

Empire User Rating

Posted by Gaschau at 11:13, 07 September 2011 | Report This Post


Blockbuster Blunder

I read a lot (incl Empire review) about this Cowboys & Aliens (C&A) before I went to see it last week. I had heard mixed reports but I was expecting with the crew (Spielburg & Howard) involved it would in the end, deliver, instead, I found that it was simply another Blockbusters Blunder. It was a blockbuster in the sense that there was obviously plenty of $$$$, the stars, the scale and the CGI/effects - this draws most of us to the cinema. But blunderish as I found myself in a sim... More

Empire User Rating

Posted by kenand11 at 04:15, 07 September 2011 | Report This Post


Independence Day in the Old West?

Not a great film but at the same time far from a bad film. The good is Sam Rockwell who gives another fine performance. The bad is Harrison Ford who pretty much dials in his performance and offers very little in this film. Daniel Craig meanwhile has rugged good looks. ... More

Posted by sanchia at 21:28, 05 September 2011 | Report This Post


RE: Daniel Craig for Jack Reacher

Really surprised at the hate on here. I loved it, despite its rushed ending. Great fun. ... More

Posted by Vadersville at 17:52, 30 August 2011 | Report This Post


Daniel Craig for Jack Reacher

Craig is excellent. Ford is solid. Rockwell is funny. And Wilde is seven kinds of sexy. ... More

Empire User Rating

Posted by tysmuse at 20:29, 29 August 2011 | Report This Post


RE:

Great film really enjoyed this a lot. Great performances and a good script help make this one of the more enjoyable films this summer. 5/5 ... More

Empire User Rating

Posted by NCC1701A at 14:05, 29 August 2011 | Report This Post


tp://www.imdb.com/title/tt0409847/]Cowboys & Alienshis mix of two beloved genres makes you wonder why this hasn`t been done before. Jon Favreau did dared to do it and it turns out to be a really entertaining action flick. The mix of western and sci-fi might sound strange but Favreau knows how to make it a well-balanced whole. The first part might be a bit rushed and have some unnecessary scenes. In the second part that is more than made up for and works in a high pace towards a strong fin... More

Empire User Rating

Posted by TheGodfather at 20:28, 28 August 2011 | Report This Post


RE: slightly over-long, but okay

L: umarimtiaz3 What a great movie i have seen it tonight and really like that movie..harison and daniel is awesome and great acting in this movie..it should be blockbuster movie for this year :D] ... More

Posted by jackcarter at 22:02, 26 August 2011 | Report This Post


RE: slightly over-long, but okay

What a great movie i have seen it tonight and really like that movie..harison and daniel is awesome and great acting in this movie..it should be blockbuster movie for this year ak iOS 5 untethered iPhone 5 ... More

Posted by umarimtiaz3 at 17:17, 26 August 2011 | Report This Post


RE: Absolution

For me, it did exactly what I expected it to do and in that way it was disappointing. We all knew Rockwell's Doc would be placed in a position where he had to shoot, we all knew that the boy would use the knife and in that regard, it was a very unsurprising and straight-forward film. However I like the fact it was played straight and I thought showing the aliens in glaring sunlight was very brave of Favreau. Sure their motivations were muddled, but as we follow the human characters it... More

Posted by Timon at 12:25, 25 August 2011 | Report This Post


RE: Absolution

I don't usually feel compelled to write about films that I disliked. I'll happily write about a film's flaws in an overall critique but I just felt that Cowboys and Aliens was SO bad that I needed to vent. There will be spoilers. The film starts well enough; somewhere crossed between a Bourne flick and Lost (not hard when you consider one of the writers worked on Lost). Daniel Craig wakes up in the middle of the Old West after some as yet undiscovered trauma with a weird bracelet on his... More

Posted by Gazdance at 11:47, 25 August 2011 | Report This Post


Absolution

Most of the dissatisfaction with this movie seems to stem from the schism between the title and the content. Let's say that the title of the movie was, for example, 'Absolution'. Your likely viewing experience would be as follows; You heard about this project -about five months ago- as a comic adap being reigned by Favreau and you thought, 'That sounds nice, but I'll probably catch it on pay per view next year when my girlfriend is drunk enough to be into it. Forward two months and you are enti... More

Empire User Rating

Posted by eveningrecords at 01:04, 25 August 2011 | Report This Post


RE: slightly over-long, but okay

In the Old West, a man wakes up in the middle of the desert, with no memory of who he is or how he got there, and with a strange metal bracelet around one of his arms.  After dispatching of some miscreants who try to kill him, he wanders into the town of Absolution, where he involves himself in another fight and a woman recognises him.  He is knocked out and imprisoned, where it is revealed he is Jake Lonergan, an outlaw wanted for murder.  Suddenly some alien ships a... More

Empire User Rating

Posted by Dr Lenera at 16:46, 24 August 2011 | Report This Post


slightly over-long, but okay

I think Empire slightly over-rated this one. Anyone going to a film with this title should adjust expectations accordingly, and it was not bad. Darker then it sounded and good one the action hots up. But there were flaws (personality changes for Ford and his son) that made it an okay movie rather then a great one. ... More

Empire User Rating

Posted by bretty at 11:30, 24 August 2011 | Report This Post


Boring shite

This is a very boring film devoid of wit. The cast look genuinely bored, too, and quite embarrassed. Craig barely says a word. He should have said "no" when this script crossed his desk. Like I said, boring shite. ... More

Empire User Rating

Posted by ashy at 19:53, 23 August 2011 | Report This Post


CURSED

It's the curse of Bond. Craig doesn't see to have made a good film since Casino Royale. He did some great stuff once.. ... More

Empire User Rating

Posted by HENRYS CAT at 16:22, 22 August 2011 | Report This Post


What were they thinking?

freakin' awful. Boring and insultingly stupid, but not in a funny way. ... More

Empire User Rating

Posted by BatSpider at 20:12, 21 August 2011 | Report This Post


What were they thinking?

freakin' awful. Boring and insultingly stupid, but not in a funny way. ... More

Empire User Rating

Posted by BatSpider at 20:12, 21 August 2011 | Report This Post


RE: Empire often mark success by critical analysis not box office takings. Afterall you can't rewrite history, Wild Wild West did scoop 220 million in 1999 now that can't in any way be classed as a failure.

The overly serious tone was a mistake in my opnion, it just didn't gel with the scenario. Everything about the film was dull and made for a very laborious viewing experience. Even the action scenes lacked invention & spectacle so there really are no redeeming qualities. Favreau can't seem to do action scenes with any originality - the set-pieces are probably the weakest element of the Iron Man films I think. Cowboys & Aliens just feels like a waste of time and money and rubber stamps my opi... More

Posted by mackey at 10:47, 21 August 2011 | Report This Post


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