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Jacqueline Monahan's Movie Reviews

Cowboys & Aliens

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  4_Chicks_Small Jacqueline Monahan

Jacqueline  Monahan

Las Vegas Round The Clock
Jacqueline Monahan is an educator for the GEAR UP program at UNLV.
She is also an entertainment reporter for
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Cowboys & Aliens

Two improbable genres meet and marry in this tale of the Old West; its unsophisticated inhabitants cope with strange lights, flying machines, and abductions (mechanical projectiles lasso town folk on a regular basis).  Oh, and there are explosions, too.

The year is 1873 and the town is Absolution, Arizona, a tiny outpost in the New Mexico Territory.  Everyone’s lost someone to the hostile flying things.  Wives, sons, grandfathers have all disappeared into the sky like human tether balls, snagged by cords attached to metal, spider-like machines that race through the air.

In a pre-electricity era, the absurdity of flight to people whose only modes of transportation were horses, trains and pedestrian power must have been utterly incomprehensible.  But, I’m getting ahead of myself here.

The first sight to fill up the screen is an expanse of arid wilderness and a bewildered stranger.  We don’t know who Jake Lonergan (Daniel Craig) is any more than he does when he wakes up baking in the desert sun, shoeless, injured, and wearing a mighty fancy metal bracelet.  His memory is gone but not his badass attitude.

His first encounter with other men doesn’t go so well, and we learn that Jake is a tough customer who doesn’t like to play nice in the sandbox (it is a desert, after all).  When he enters the town of Absolution, events get even more mysterious.

John Taggart (Keith Carradine) is the town’s sheriff; Meacham (Clancy Brown) is its preacher.  Doc (Sam Rockwell) is actually a saloon keeper and Percy (Paul Dano) is an obnoxious, entitled troublemaker whose father, Colonel Woodrow Dolarhyde, (Harrison Ford) is a wealthy rancher responsible for the town’s very existence.  Rich and mean-spirited, neither of the Dolarhydes would win a popularity contest.

Absolution also features the improbable personage of Ella Swenson (Olivia Wilde) who wears a large gun belt over her dainty flowered gown, you know, the kind with the bustle in back. She wears her hair down in the scorching heat.  This IS science fiction.

Lonergan butts heads with just about everyone he meets before a common enemy emerges in the form of the airborne invaders.  Several people are “roped” off of their feet and into the sky, including Percy, Sheriff Taggart, and Doc’s wife Maria (Ana de la Reguera).  Lonergan’s fancy bracelet lights up and becomes a powerful weapon against the aliens.

A posse quickly forms that includes the senior Dolarhyde, Doc, Ella, Meacham,  the sheriff’s young grandson Emmett (Noah Ringer) and a number of men from the town.  The group’s numbers rise and fall, plagued by deserters and deaths, but bolstered by help from an Apache tribe and a band of outlaws.  That common enemy thing again; it makes for strange bedfellows as they say,

Our earthbound heroes, led by Lonergan, discover the aliens’ mastership and are filled in to their culture from the mysterious Ella, who harbors a secret.  The aliens themselves are big, slimy pinheads, more brawn than brain, it seems, although their mechanical headquarters is cleverly modeled to resemble a rock formation (among other rock formations, you understand, or the whole ruse wouldn’t work).

The rest of the film is a battle for superiority, rescue, and redemption.  Epiphanies pop up all over the place, and not everyone makes it out alive.  Watch it for entertainment value and you won’t be disappointed.  Start asking questions and the buzz quickly evaporates.

Daniel Craig shows less emotion here than the aliens he’s fighting, but enough menace to make him a formidable one-man weapon.  Harrison Ford plays against type - at first – starting out ugly but through good acts winds up real “purty” like his previous heroes.  Olivia Wilde’s character is anachronistic, raising more questions than she answers, but necessary to provide explanation and insight (albeit spotty ones) to the testosterone-driven men.

Sam Rockwell as the cowardly-turned-courageous Doc is one of the most sympathetic characters and Noah Ringer gives the kids someone to relate to.

Directed by Jon Favreau (Iron Man) and written by no less than a half dozen screenwriters, Cowboys & Aliens has great visuals and takes itself so seriously that it’s less fun than it could have been.  You’ll get cowboys, you’ll get aliens.  At least you can’t always predict where it will take you.  That and the great cast garner C&A one more chick, for effort, in place of excellence.

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