Left/Right Review for ‘Cowboys and Aliens’

The popular theory is that the right side of the brain controls emotions, while the left side controls more analytical thinking. So the left side of my brain enjoys an intelligent story with creative execution, and the right side of my brain likes lightsabers, People’s Elbows, and explosions. An example of this is the right side of my brain loves “Armageddon” and the left side of my brain hates it. Understand? No? Picture the right side of my brain with a beer and the left with a martini, oh, or how about my right side is a ten year old, and the left is Roger Ebert.

Plot: A man (Daniel Craig) wakes up in the middle of the Old West. He doesn’t know who he is or how he got there. He also doesn’t know why he’s wearing a strange, mechanical bracelet. Then…you know…aliens attack.

Preface: With movies based on graphic novels, I think it’s appropriate that the reviewer shares how acquainted he or she is with the previous material. I’ve never read “Cowboys and Aliens.”

Left Lobe:

Before the world premiere screening of “Cowboys & Aliens,” director Jon Favreau shared an anecdote with the audience. Apparently he was a spoiled child and was very specific with what he wanted for Christmas. When he’d look under his family’s Christmas tree, he had a good idea of what was in each package.

But, his grandfather would always give him a surprise package. It would drive him nuts trying to figure out what it was. Ultimately, it always proved to be something he loved, but never knew he wanted.

Where was he going with this? Favreau claimed that in a summer full of sequels, prequels, reboots, and deboots (yes, I made that word up) “Cowboys & Aliens” is the present you knew very little about, but would enjoy.

Favreau certainly got off on the right foot as the beginning of the film has all of the makings of a solid Western. However, after the initial alien attack, the movie loses its way a bit.

At times focus is drawn away from the main story to shed some light on the mystery man’s back story. While this is all well and good, especially in a tale about a man who doesn’t remember his past, the scenes lack emotional depth. I was supposed to feel for the mystery man’s painful loss, but didn’t.

Once we were firmly back into the main story, the movie hit all of the right notes. The action scenes were fun, sometimes scary, and exhilarating and the special effects were top notch.

However, I can’t help but get the feeling that it was more of a “Glee”-style mash-up of two tried-and-true formulas than an original film. It feels like nothing new was introduced.

Nitpick: Part of the fun of a concept like “Cowboys & Aliens” is imagining how people from that era would react to advanced technology. This is touched on briefly after the initial attack, but the aliens’ origins and motivations are eventually explained to the cowboys in great detail. Maybe I’m old fashioned, but I like some mystery in my frightening invaders (ala the original “Night of the Living Dead.”)

Acting wise, Daniel Craig shines as Jake the mystery man. That isn’t really news though, as I’ve enjoyed Craig in everything I’ve ever seen him in.

Harrison Ford breaks out and even seems to have some fun as the grizzled cattle rancher Woodrow Dolarhyde. His scenes with youngster Noah Ringer are especially good. The performance was a bit uneven though, as Ford would occasionally slip into a bit of a caricature.

I won’t be able to get into my thoughts on Olivia Wilde’s performance without revealing heavy spoilers. So, let’s just say that after it was all said and done, she was a fine choice for the role of Ella.

Sam Rockwell, Adam Beach, and Keith Carradine should also receive kudos for fine performances.

In the end Favreau was right. The gift that is “Cowboys & Aliens” is a lot of fun. But it’s the kind of present you’ll play with for a day then eventually forget about.

Right Lobe:

Westerns are like the cornbread of cinema.

Yeah, I should probably elaborate on that statement.

What I mean is; I love cornbread. It’s delicious. However, since it’s not an everyday food, I don’t think about it. If you asked me to list my twenty favorite foods, I’d totally forget cornbread.

But when I’m reminded of cornbread I get excited because I remember how good it can be.

That’s how I feel about Westerns.

Maybe it’s because there haven’t been a lot of Westerns lately that I get giddy when a new one comes out. And rest assured that “Cowboys & Aliens” is a movie to get giddy about.

First off, Daniel Craig murders this role. Then he goes after the role’s family.

Harrison Ford steps out of the typical Harrison Ford-character and is a blast as Woodrow Dolarhyde. He’s like the old Indiana Jones we should have gotten from the intros to “The Young Indiana Jones Chronicles.” Instead we got a crabby old geezer with an eye patch who dispensed unwanted wisdom like he was Forrest Gump.

Olivia Wilde and her hypnotizing eyes (and other body parts) are also in this film. Just something I’m throwing out there.

Plot wise, it’s probably exactly what you’re expecting from the trailers. There are cowboys, there are aliens, and they do indeed fight. The action scenes are amazing (with one glaring exception) and the majority of the comedy hits the mark. Walton Goggins in particular is hilarious…although I’ll never forgive him for killing Lem on “The Shield.”

Is this better than modern Westerns like “Tombstone” or “Unforgiven”? No.

Is it worth your money? Totally.

Should you bring cornbread? Up to you.

Rating: Two Lobes Up

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