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Cowboys & Aliens (2011)
Rated PG13

Starring: Daniel Craig, Harrison Ford, and Olivia Wilde

Rating:
***
out of
*****

Jake Lonergan (Daniel Craig) wakes up in the middle of the desert with a wicked case of amnesia. On his right side, he has a deep flesh wound. On his left wrist, he is wearing what looks to be an iron bracelet of some kind. Before Jake can assess his situation much further, he is accosted by three unsavory looking men who seem to think there may be a bounty on Jake's head. Before they can collect, though, Jake turns the tables on them using some finely tuned hand-to-hand combat skills.

Making his way into the nearby town of Absolution, Jake soon raises the ire of local cattle baron, Woodrow Dolarhyde (Harrison Ford), by way of a violent run-in with Dolarhyde's loose cannon of a son, Percy (Paul Dano). The townsfolk expect a showdown between the elder Dolarhyde and Sheriff Taggart (Keith Carradine), who has locked up both Percy and Jake. Before any such confrontation can take place, strange alien aircraft appear and begin strafing the town and kidnapping townspeople -- including the sheriff and Percy. Stranger still, Jake's mystery bracelet begins glowing and Jake uses it to shoot one of the alien craft out of the sky. And so begins a chain of events that bonds Jake and Dolarhyde in a tenuous alliance to find their kidnapped friends and relatives. Coming along for the ride are Doc (Sam Rockwell,) a local barkeep whose wife was abducted, and Ella (Olivia Wilde,) a strange woman who seems to know more about Jake than he does.

The story is certainly nothing original but yet Cowboys and Aliens works thanks to the earnest performances by the lead actors. Daniel Craig is surprisingly effective as the badass loner with a soft side. Harrison Ford's Dolarhyde is the character with the most depth and he seems to enjoy peeling back the layers as the movie rolls along to its completely predictable conclusion. Sam Rockwell and Paul Dano, two incredibly gifted actors in their own right, are given relatively minor roles but they breathe as much life into them as possible in the small amount of screen time they each receive. In fact, only Olivia Wilde seems disposable in her role but she's certainly not a liability to the film by any means. Director Jon Favreau has more success fleshing out the characters than he does staging effective action sequences involving the aliens. In fact, the most interesting action in Cowboys & Aliens is the human-to-human conflict -- both physical and emotional -- rather than the unconvincing and half-hearted alien showdown.

While it's certainly not a classic science fiction film (or Western, for that matter,) Cowboys & Aliens still provides a decent night's worth of entertainment as long as you allow the film's actors to be the true stars rather than the special effects.

Trivia: Daniel Craig was chosen because of his distinct likeness to Steve McQueen, who starred in the cowboy epic The Magnificent Seven. (Source: The Internet Movie Database)

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