Daniel Craig and Harrison Ford lead the counterattack against extraterrestrial invaders in the Wild West.
Editor's Note: Throughout March and April, we’re celebrating Great Westerns of the 21st century — noteworthy movies and TV series with special appeal to C&I readers that have premiered since 2001. Check the Entertainment tab Monday through Friday to see a different recommendation by C&I senior writer Joe Leydon. And be on the lookout for our upcoming May/June 2020 print edition, which prominently features the legendary star who looms large in two of this century’s very best westerns.
Based on the 2006 graphic novel of the same title created by Scott Mitchell Rosenberg, Cowboys & Aliens is an improbably entertaining genre mashup that is all the more engaging because everyone involved plays it perfectly straight. That is, as director Jon Favreau explained to C&I shortly before the sci-fi oater’s 2011 theatrical release, it’s “a very traditional western” that just happens to include some fearsome extraterrestrials.
Currently available for streaming on Amazon Prime, Redbox, iTunes and other platforms, the movie spins a fanciful tale set in the New Mexico Territory of 1875. The desert town of Absolution is controlled by Col. Woodrow Dolarhyde (Harrison Ford — yes, that Harrison Ford), a grizzled tyrant who rules with a whim of iron, and whose spoiled son (Paul Dano of There Will Be Blood) is repeatedly at loggerheads with the local sheriff (Keith Carradine). One day, a stranger (Daniel Craig, out of James Bondage) with no memory of his past wanders into Absolution. At first, the only clue to his history is a mysterious shackle that encircles his wrist. But then someone identifies him as a notorious outlaw, and he winds up inside the local jail.
Which, of course, places him in the right place at the right time to join forces with the sheriff, Col. Dolarhyde, other townspeople, and several Apache warriors from the surrounding area when marauding extraterrestrials drop in for a hunting party.
“What we’ve done,” co-screenwriter Alex Kurtzman (Star Trek , Mission: Impossible III) told C&I, “is to essentially set up this very serious, very stark, very dangerous world with all the conventions that apply to a traditional western. And into the middle of that world, we drop aliens — and then have people react the way people in that world would have reacted.”
And speaking of reacting: Co-star Walton Goggins (Justified) freely admitted to C&I that he was just a little starstruck during his first day of location filming in New Mexico.
“I’m the kind of guy who fancies himself a pretty good horseback rider,” Goggins said. “So, yeah, I kind of crowed about my riding skills before I got there. And then I was the first guy who got bucked off my horse. Nerves had something to do with it, I have to admit. Because in the scene, I’m leading all of these people back to the camp. And among these people, there’s Daniel Craig and Harrison Ford. And I’m a little bleeping nervous, because this is my first day.
“So I fall off the horse. And my foot is still in the stirrup. And I’m flat on my back, while everybody started laughing. And I’m thinking, Okay, just give me a second. That’s Han Solo, and that’s James Bond. Could everybody just give me a break here? Could I get just one more take so I can get my feet underneath me here, guys?”