Movie Mom

Movie Mom


Cowboys & Aliens

posted by Nell Minow
B
Lowest Recommended Age:High School
MPAA Rating:Pated PG-13 for intense sequences of western and sci-fi action and violence, some partial nudity and a brief crude reference
Profanity:Some old-fashioned strong language
Nudity/Sex:References to prostitute, kiss, some brief nudity (nothing shown)
Alcohol/Drugs:Smoking, drinking
Violence/Scariness:Extended and sometimes graphic peril and violence with shooting, explosions, knives, scary monsters, and incineration
Diversity Issues:Diverse characters, some portrayal of historic diversity issues
Movie Release Date:July 29, 2011
DVD Release Date:December 6, 2011

The last word I thought I’d be using about a movie called “Cowboys & Aliens” is “realistic,” but what I like best about this film is the way it uses the most speculative of fantasies for thoughtful exploration, not just six-guns vs. laser shooters.  Perhaps “respectful” is a more appropriate term.  Without any snarkiness or irony it shows us the way that frontiersmen a decade after the Civil War would rise to the challenge of an alien invasion the same way they battled nature and each other, making up in determination for what they lacked in knowledge and technology.

As co-star Brendan Wayne explained to me in an interview, we can’t make the kinds of iconic John Ford films his grandfather, John Wayne starred in because “you can’t really do cowboys and Indians without insulting history and culture.”  But a fight against aliens doesn’t require any nuance or sensitivity and that makes it possible to revisit the archetypes that continue to define us as a culture in a way that is both traditional and new.

As for plot, the title says it all.  A cowboy (Daniel Craig) wakes up with amnesia.  He does not know who he is, where he got the injury to his abdomen, or how a strange metal cuff became attached to his arm.  We learn at the same time he does that his fighting skills are excellent and he has no compunction about killing — or relieving his victim of his boots, guns, and horse.  And he has eyes the color of the clear sky over the Rockies.

“What do you know?” asks the preacher (Clancy Brown) who discovers the gunman has broken into his home  “English,” says the gunman.  He seems to know how to survive, or at least how to recognize danger and the vulnerability of those who intend to attack him.

The preacher lives in a town where the hot-headed and arrogant son of the local rancher accidentally shoots a deputy sheriff.  He and the gunman are jailed waiting for federal marshalls — or for the young man’s father.  One way or the other, they will leave the jail that night.

The father, Dolarhyde (Harrison Ford) arrives, determined to take his son home.  The marshalls arrive to take him to federal court.  And then the aliens arrive and even in this land where nothing is certain and no rules seem to apply, this is so far out of their experience they can only call the invaders “demons.”

This middle section is the most intriguing.  The cowboys can’t go to Google or watch old movies to figure out what to do.  They don’t have electricity or automatic weapons.  They have to figure out a way to fight their demons using only the same qualities and resources they bring to staking their claim on the land.

They know how to track their prey.  And Dolarhyde was a Colonel at Antietem.  That means he knows military tactics.  And what it means to lose his men.  The gunman’s memory begins to return and they get help from some unexpected sources in time for a final battle.  The film falls apart a bit here and the long list of writers and producers (including Steven Spielberg and Ron Howard) may have been a factor in a disappointing last act that shows evidence of compromise and lack of focus.   The aliens themselves also seem under-imagined and the reveal of their ultimate purpose caused some laughter in the theater.

Director Jon Favreau (“Iron Man”) likes to avoid CGI whenever possible, and he makes superb use of both the mechanical effects and the Western landscape.  The faces of Ford and Craig are a landscape of their own and both men provide heft and a sense of resolute determination that resonates with our deepest myths and reminds us why so many of them include cowboys.

Parents should know that this film’s theme is alien invasion of the old west with peril and violence that includes shoot-outs, explosions, knives, fights, incineration, and graphic images including monsters and injuries of humans and aliens, characters injured and killed, brief strong language, drinking, smoking, references to prostitution and body parts

Family discussion:  How do westerns exemplify America’s deepest myths?  How did the story try to make the cowboys’ response believable?   Why did Percy and Nat respond differently to Woodrow?

If you like this, try: the graphic novel that inspired the film and classic westerns like “Destry Rides Again” and “Silverado



  • http://AddaURLtothiscomment Ghost

    Nell, how come you haven’t reviewed Captain America. Its been out a week and i was looking forward to reading your review of it.

    • Nell Minow

      Sorry, Ghost — as you can see from the site, I was at Comic-Con and missed the film. I’ll try to catch up and post a review soon.

  • Pingback: DVDs for Teachers: Scholastic Giveaway | Christian Media Cross

  • http://AddaURLtothiscomment Miguel

    I had the same question Ghost. I took a chance and saw captina america since it was not reviewed yet. I used word of mouth, and the word of mouth was that Captain America was better than Cowboys and Aliens. I think they were right, I really enjoyed it. I don’t know if I’ll enjoy cowboys vs aliens. A “B” seems like a better grade than the viewers are gving it. Which I think is closer to a C/C-. I’d say Captain america was a B/B+.

  • http://AddaURLtothiscomment Shary

    Hi Nell. We saw “Cowboys and Aliens” the other day and think your B rating is much too generous. The most I can say for it is that I didn’t fall asleep. I usually enjoy actors Craig and Ford but feel their talent was wasted in this ridiculous flick. Movie-wise, it has been a disappointing summer with nothing worthwhile on the horizon (sigh).

Previous Posts

Interview: Joseph Nasser of "Amber Alert: Terror on the Highway"
Reserve Police Officer Joseph Nasser produced Amber Alert: Terror on the Highway to help raise awareness of the Amber Alert system. It stars Tom Berenger as a man on the edge, making a dead rush for Mexico and kidnapping two young girls along the way. He is hotly pursued by police chief Martha Geig

posted 8:00:33am Jul. 28, 2014 | read full post »

"Guardian of the Galaxy's" Awesome Mixtape
One of the many pleasures of "Guardians of the Galaxy," opening this week, is the soundtrack featuring some 70's classics from an "Awesome Mixtape" played by Peter "Star Lord" Quill (Chris Pratt).  Here are some of the highlights. "Hooked on a Feeling" by Blue Swede [youtube]http://www.youtub

posted 8:00:21am Jul. 27, 2014 | read full post »

Comic-Con 2014: Day 2
Day 2 of Comic-Con included: an interview with "Sharknado" and "Sharknado 2" screenwriter Thunder Levin, a buggy lunch with Boxtrolls, press events with the directors and casts of four films, and appearing on the Rotten Tomatoes panel, where each attendee was given a paddle with a ripe tomato on on

posted 10:04:47pm Jul. 26, 2014 | read full post »

Thank You! This Site is 19 Years Old This Week!
It seems like yesterday, but it was 19 years ago this week that I first began writing reviews online as The Movie Mom®.  Anyone remember Prodigy?  The first appearance of my website was via the Sears-owned online service, so long ago it does not even turn up in Wayback searches.  At the time, we

posted 3:59:49pm Jul. 26, 2014 | read full post »

Interview: Dan Cohen of "Alive Inside"
Dan Cohen is the gifted and passionately committed man who transforms the lives of people with dementia and other severely debilitating diseases.  He is featured in the documentary "Alive Inside." He is the founder of Music and Memory, which provides resources to help bring these programs to peopl

posted 8:00:36am Jul. 26, 2014 | read full post »




Report as Inappropriate

You are reporting this content because it violates the Terms of Service.

All reported content is logged for investigation.