In a small Arizona cattle town in 1873, an outlaw awakens with no memory of his past and a strange alien device strapped to his wrist. As he struggles to regain his past the town has troubles of its own. The various points of conflict in the ensemble cast would be enough for their own story, but they only make up one half of this flick. When menacing alien forces arrive and begin abducting people, the remnant must overcome their differences to save the ones they love.
Earthy, Wild and Unusual
So often, genre films forget that characters are the best special effect. But Jon Favreau, who also directed IRON MAN, learned that lesson long ago. The ensemble cast is made up of wonderful actors turning in great performances, resulting in interesting characters and some welcome emotional depth.
Even so, this is a movie about (you guessed it) cowboys and aliens, and it delivers on that promise with gusto. The wild west is dirty and dusty. The sounds of horses, harnesses, gun-belts and leather provide an earthy feel that makes the sci-fi explosions and spaceships all the more wild and unusual. The blend of genres works well because Favreau treats them both seriously. The western aspects are all grit and stubble. And the aliens are slimy and genuinely scary. Despite the title, this movie is anything but a B-movie or spoof.
I would have loved to see just a little more money thrown at this flick to provide some truly unforgettable visuals, and some more creativity in the way it was shot would have taken the quality over the top. But these are such minor complaints about a truly great movie.
There are some interesting spiritual beats in the first third of the film that those sensitive to spiritual themes will pick out easily. The aliens are thought to be biblical demons of some kind and a sympathetic "town preacher" played by Clancy Brown offers up some memorable "spiritual slogans" worth noting.
The first is that "whether you go to heaven or hell isn't God's plan. It's YOUR plan." The second is "you have to earn God's presence, then recognize it and act on it." The third is "God doesn't care about who you were. He cares about who you are." What strikes me about each of these "slogans" is that they can be interpreted in a way that reflects biblical truth, and yet they are so carelessly worded that they could also be interpreted in ways very counter to biblical truth.
The first slogan is true in that is a choice left to us, but false in suggesting that these choices are not still part of God's plan. The second slogan is true in the sense that God will "draw near" to us if we draw near to him(James 4:8) but false in potentially suggesting that the permanent presence of God (through the Holy Spirit) in us is something we must "earn". The third slogan is true in the sense that God puts the sins of those who trust in him behind them(Romans 8:1), but false in suggesting that God doesn't care about our past. If God literally did not care about anyone's past, the sacrifice of Christ would be pointless.
This is a fantastic flick worth almost anyone's attention for the unique blending of two genres and wonderful characters. It has a few points worth talking about, but that are also easily forgotten after the first third of the movie.
COWBOYS & ALIENS is rated PG-13 for intense sequences of western and sci-fi action and violence, some partial nudity and a brief crude reference.