(Check back: A critique of “Rise of the Planet of the Apes” will be posted. Now C.E. Chambers truly knows that Hollywood — not chimps — has the ability to take over the world.)
By C.E. Chambers
Posted August 6, 2011
The soul of this film is redemption. It’s about hard-bitten, unlikable characters in the 19th-century American West who are natural enemies but end up desperately needing each other.
Aliens terrorize a small, former mining town in New Mexico with their low-hovering UFO’s. They need gold. They indiscriminately kill terrified residents with their laser cannons as they’re trying to flee, which start multiple raging fires in the area, and they abduct other people in mid-run by lassoing them alien-style from the air.
Handsome Jake Lonergan (Daniel Craig) has amnesia. He wakes up in the desert with a deep abdominal wound and something that looks like a puzzling, high-tech metal handcuff on one of his wrists. As he tries to make sense of his surroundings and situation, three unkempt, moronic cowboys wander by on horses and start an altercation. Jake is more than a match for them. Jake’s wounds are tended to later by a grizzled but kind country preacher in the struggling town of Absolution who asks, “Only two kinds of people get shot: criminals and victims. Which one are you?”
Jake is a cowboy living in the 19th-century with 21st-century abs. (Rachel Weisz, you are one lucky woman.). He’s unusually proficient at handling himself in tough situations. British actor Daniel Craig is very compelling as a taciturn, Wild West-type of James Bond -– and he’s amazingly nimble while performing tough stunts — but ripples of shock moved through my theater when his character’s background was revealed. The truth hurts.
Colonel Dolarhyde (Harrison Ford) is a wealthy, ruthless cattle driver whom the town is dependent on economically. Of course, his son, Percy (Paul Dano), is a spoiled ne’er do well whom locals must cater to. His favorite past times are demanding free drinks at the local saloon and shooting up places with his pals. (When’s the last time a financially prosperous cowboy wasn’t portrayed as a heartless, greedy capitalist with sniveling, good-for-nothing progeny? “Bonanza”? But I digress….)
Sheriff Taggart (Keith Carradine) is the town’s sheriff who admirably doesn’t play favorites.
A band of Apaches figure predominantly in this film. Black Knife, the chief, is played by Raoul Trujillo. Colonel Dolarhyde’s close associate, Nat Colorado, is a real-life Native American played by Adam Beach who starred in the memorable full-length feature film, “Smoke Signals.”
I can’t help but question why Hollywood mostly relegates Native Americans to a 19th-century time warp. Contemporary Native Americans’ lives are inundated with intrigue, drama, and amazing good humor on and off the rez. I know: I visited friends from the Quinault tribe for almost 20 years. Marvelous Native American and Native Canadian actors like Graham Greene (“Dances With Wolves”), Valerie Red Horse (“Naturally Native”), Irene Bedard (“Smoke Signals”), Eric Schweig (“The Last of the Mohicans”), Adam Beach and many others have commendable talents that are being wasted.
The country preacher is refreshingly portrayed as a very down-to-earth, unpretentious man with admirable character. He doesn’t fit the Hollywood stereotype: He’s not overly pious or a hypocrite. Surprisingly, he has some of the best lines in the film. He talks about God to a man in his town and says, “Learn His presence; recognize it; act on it.”
There are actually two kinds of aliens in this film. I’d share more but I’d spoil a bizarre “Twilight Zone”-type addition to the plot that reeks of overkill. How many characters from outer space can fit into a movie that’s set in the 1800s before your head starts to swim? The self-sacrificing ending is highly questionable considering current events, but it may hint at a future sequel.
Note: “Cowboys and Aliens” was inspired by a novel written by Michael Rosenberg.
(Written by C.E. Chambers and published online August 6, 2011.)