I went into this movie with high hopes. I'm a Harrison Ford, Daniel Craig, and Jon Favreau fan. I love Westerns and science fiction. How could it go wrong?
But it did. The opening was filled with mystery and action, and I liked the way Jake Lonergan (Daniel Craig) took care of himself when threatened. But the movie quickly went downhill from there. Jake rode into town and quickly met a preacher who stitched him up, then got crossways with the local bad boy, son of the cattle baron, Dollarhyde (Harrison Ford), who basically ran roughshod over the town.
Except for the mysterious manacle on Jake's wrist, this could have been an everyday Western. I know that one of the conceits of the movie was to blend the Western and the science fiction movie genres, but I felt like the story really dropped the ball at times.
Then when I found out Jake Lonergan was a bad man, I felt really betrayed. There was no hero to root for. The guy was a jerk, and continued to be something of a jerk throughout the movie. Not a tough guy, a jerk. Even the weak love story that stumbled throughout the film (two loves stories, actually, if you count the infatuation with Ella -- Olivia Wilde's character) never really sparked with me. We never found out enough about the woman (can't even remember her name) to know who she truly was. Lonergan's old gang referred to her as a prostitute, but she didn't act like a prostitute in the flashbacks.
Even worse, Dollarhyde was an unsympathetic character as well. I got the feeling that he was supposed to be the retired war hero turned cattle baron, but his relationship with his son and his permissiveness with him really soured the mix. To add insult to injury, there was the screwed-up relationship between Dollarhyde and his foreman. I don't know which was more egregious to my willing disbelief: that Dollarhyde would try so hard to put distance between himself and the foreman, or that the foreman would put up with all the crap from Dollarhyde -- much less love and respect the man. Of course, that was all to set up the touching "death" scene at the end of the movie.
And Ella was an alien entity that was out of this world. She died and came back to life at one point in the film. If she could do that, why couldn't she find the aliens? Why didn't she have more weapons? Where was her real body?
Let's move on to the reason the aliens were here in the first place: they were after our gold. When that was revealed, I just couldn't believe it. You'd think that any species capable of interstellar flight would be able to get off of the gold standard. The plot point just did not make sense. An advance scouting team for potential colonization would have been better.
And then there was the whole alien medical procedure subplot. Supposedly, people were being taken so the aliens could study them and find weaknesses they could exploit when, and if, they returned in force.
And -- since the aliens had all this medical gear -- why did they have so few weapons? Especially since they had the cool aircraft-grabber tech? Didn't make sense that they would go after the humans barehanded.
The scenery was breathtakingly beautiful and the scenes were well shot. If there had been true heroes in the group, instead of just actors for us to follow around, the story would have been better. I can't fault Harrison Ford or Daniel Craig or Olivia Wilde. They did the best they could with what they had to work with. The story just didn't go deep enough to elicit any kind of real connection with me, or with my 13 year old, who was seriously bummed by the film as well. If you can't win over the two of us, at disparate ends of the audience poll, there's something wrong.
At best, this is a Redbox rental (http://www.redbox.com/movies/cowboys-and-aliens) and will probably be best served if you get it just to assuage any curiosity you might have about the film.