While the iconic wild, wild West was never a fascination for one reason or another, Cowboys & Aliens turned out to be a gripping adventure rather than a banal Western inspired flick.
More or less one grasps the plot which the title and trailer give away: 1970s New Mexico/Arizona cowboy town becomes a target of outer space forces. The impressive feat, however, is that while it staunchly portrays the rugged and filthy Western setting, the extraterrestrial theme becomes a kind of back story that keeps the audience guessing and glued to the screen.
A key figure to this is Jake Lonergan (Daniel Craig) who wakes up wounded and weak in the heat of the desert with an unknown device attached to his right wrist. Suffering from temporary amnesia, he enters the dismal town of Absolution where he is recognized as an outlaw, wanted for theft and murder of his wife. Town Sheriff Taggart (Keith Carradine) comes to arrest Lonergan who resists and creates riot. Ella (Olivia Wilde), an enigmatic beauty closely watching the brusque Lonergan knocks him out; later, Lonergan awakens behind bars.
The town despot Woodrow Dolarhyde (fittingly played by Indiana Jones actor Harrison Ford), upon learning that Lonergan was caught, comes to prison to take back the gold that Lonergan apparently stole from him.
Before Lonergan is taken away by Dolarhyde, aliens attack Absolution, abducting Sheriff Taggart, Dolarhyde’s son Percy, the tavern owner’s (Sam Rockwell) wife, and a few townspeople. The alien encounter suddenly activates the metal shackle around Lonergan’s wrist, to everyone’s surprise, blasting off and putting away the aliens. It now appears that Absolution’s most sought after criminal is their only chance against the extraterrestrial force.
The rest of the film reveals Jake Lonergan’s mission brought about by a haunting incident in the past that he eventually comes to terms with. He suddenly becomes the leader of an unexpected company out to defend mankind—Dolarhyde who eventually puts his trust in Jake; a preacher; the tavern owner incapable of firing a gun; a boy who lost his grandfather, the Indian natives, and a group of bandits he used to wreak havoc with.
As a film inspired by Scott Mitchell Roseburg’s graphic novel, Cowboys & Aliens does not come off cheesy or clichéd. It is backed by a storyline—aliens in quest for gold and human bodies to study—and humor that entails no dragging scenes for a good two hours.
Lest we forget, this Jon Favreau film is one classic that does not fail to toy with imagination, as any Steven Spielberg-produced film always does.