Cowboys & Aliens: movie review

As its title indicates, this is a strange cross of movie genres, and lest any viewers get antsy, it doesn’t allow much time to pass before we first encounter UFOs in the Old West. The film takes its time unraveling the rest of the story, leading us along a trail with no clear destination in sight, at first. (Could that have something to do with the six A-list writers who worked on the screenplay, which was inspired by Scott Michael Rosenberg’s graphic novel?) All we know is that there’s been an alien invasion, and neither the cowboys nor Indians know how to deal with it.

Director Jon Favreau earns his Western bona fides with a sharp eye for casting and locations. The first characters we see, after Daniel Craig, are a trio of authentic-looking cowboys played by Western veteran Buck Taylor and his two sons; thus, the movie looks and feels right from the very start. Cinematographer Matthew Libatique offers panoramic views of the beautiful and—

—rugged New Mexico settings throughout the picture.

Daniel Craig seems right at home in this milieu as a taciturn fellow who’s a man of action but can’t remember who he is, or how he wound up stranded on the prairie with a strange, futuristic metal contraption strapped to his wrist. Harrison Ford is also well-cast as a bullying cattleman who locks horns with the stranger, but he’s forced to scowl through most of the picture, and his role is suffused with Western clichés. (His no-account son, played by Paul Dano, is an embarrassment to him, while his Indian ward, Adam Beach, represents the son he always wished he had.)

In many ways, Olivia Wilde has the most interesting part in the film, for reasons I shouldn’t reveal. Let’s just say she’s a non-traditional Western leading lady.

Cowboys & Aliens is never boring, and its visual effects are first-rate. Veteran stunt coordinator Terry Leonard has made sure the action and horsemanship are up to par. But much as I wanted to, I never fully embraced the silly premise.

I look at it this way: if you removed the science-fiction material, you’d be left with a decent Western that covers pretty familiar territory. If you just focused on the fantastic angle, you’d have a fairly typical alien-invasion yarn. Because neither one of the two ingredients is exceptional in itself, the melding of the genres is uninspired.

That said, Cowboys & Aliens is certainly watchable, like its two-fisted leading man…but it makes me long for a full-blooded Western instead of this crossbreed.


  1. William Burns says:

    The problem with Cowboys and Aliens is the dull script. It's terrible! Having said that the film has its moments but overall it's a misfire. 4/10.

  2. Peter-John Johnson says:

    In my view if their is a critical re-assessment of this film it may rate higher than currently. I saw the Western on dvd recently and enjoyed it immensely. I say Western because in a sense it works in a similar fashion when all is said and done to Valley of the Gwangi …especially the battle sequence at the Space ship… and both Westerns are a hybridisation of the Fantasy formula grounded in credible Western Realisations.

  3. Patrick M. Gouin says:

    When 2 genres meet : The Western and Science-fiction. A competent film, but nothing more. As it is often the case with films where Spielberg is involved (producer in this case), the story and the characters are 2 dimensional. Well presented but without depth. Doesn’t get empathy from the viewer. Not this viewer in any case. The typical american entertainment film. By the way, can Harrison Ford play anything else but be confused or the grumpy old man. 6/10

  4. bozozozo says:

    just a few of the questions I had:

    where did the alien woman come from? How did she get to Earth? Why does she have only a revolver as a weapon, if her planet has the technology to do what she did after the fire? Why does the scout ship do any mining at all, if it is supposed to be just a scout? Why is the place where all the mined stuff seems to be going the same place where all the alien eggs seem to be? (these are clearly cousins of the Alien, btw).
    And why does there seem to be as many cowboys and indians during and after the final battle as there were before the battle, when so much of the battle seems to be the grotesque deaths of humans at the hands of aliens?

    I liked the movie too: just don’t ask questions. None at all.

  5. William Jones says:

    I have to disagree with this review.

    If you break the film down into two parts (anything before the fire scene and after) then the beginning has a great feel, good graphics and an interesting storyline.

    After the fire it is an entirely different matter. Anyone with a smattering of scientific information cannot “suspend disbelief” due to the numerous problems with the plot, pacing and outcomes. The thing the aliens are there for… (really? maybe it is the science geek in me, but that is a rather common element and easily available on ANY OTHER PLANET and even asteroids).

  6. Jim says:

    I enjoyed the movie. Of course, you can have just as good a time if you park yourself in front of the tube and have a double bill of THE TALL T (1957) and WAR OF THE WORLDS (1953).

  7. alan aperlo says:

    Looks like a good film. alan a

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