I didn’t really know what to expect from this film; the trailers, articles I’ve read and even other reviews didn’t paint a clear picture of what type of film I was going to see, so my mind was pretty open.
Basically, it does what it says on the tin – it is a film about cowboys and aliens – that is the main idea and plot.
My first impression was “wow, Daniel Craig does laconic, utter confidence and physicality very convincingly”, and perhaps this film’s greatest strength – rather than its slightly kooky central concept – was the strength of its cast, all of whom brought their characters to totally believable life. Craig’s Lonergan is remarkably unconflicted, untroubled by morals he is all economic movement and speech, saying and doing just enough to get what he wants. Harrison Ford’s Dolarhyde is not as bad as everyone makes him out to be, and Sam Rockwell’s Doc gains respect as well as the return of his wife on their quest. The film’s internal logic is very tight – the character’s reactions, the way the story unfolds is totally believable within the world Jon Favreau and writers Roberto Orci and Alex Kurtzman have created. There wasn’t a moment when I thought – “that wouldn’t happen” or “they wouldn’t have done that” which is a rare thing and makes the film all the stronger for its consistency.
The aliens themselves are satisfyingly depicted – obviously alien to our 21st century eyes but it’s easy to see how the 19th century cowboys arrive at “demons” in the way they move and their appearance. Where the film is lacking – only slightly – is in providing enough backstory/motive for the aliens. We get some information from Olivia Wilde’s Ella – apparently another alien (?) in human form following the main aliens to get revenge for her home world’s destruction – but beyond their quest for gold (again, why do they want it? Unless I missed that bit) the alien’s seem to be blowing up frontier towns and stealing people just because they can and it riles up the locals. Because the film is told firmly from the humans’ point of view, this isn’t a huge problem, because it doesn’t really matter why the aliens are doing what they’re doing – they just need to be stopped. A little more depth to the alien’s side of the story would have been satisfying for me, and I’d guess for the majority of the audiences who go to see this film – most likely sci-fi fans who are pretty alien savvy.
One last little niggle, was that because Wilde’s Ella is not human, (but we don’t really get an explanation as to what she is or where she comes from) it removed a note of poignancy to the ending of the battle – aside from the fact Lonergan loved her, we were given no real reason to invest in her character and so her ending comes with a sort of shrug, rather than any sense of what’s been lost.
These points are minor however in the overall scheme of the film, and it is still one of the tightest-told stories I’ve seen this year so far. An excellent cast combined with such adept handling makes it definitely one to go and see, and enjoy.