Making the Grades
During his film career, Harrison Ford has fought computer hackers, Nazi soldiers, hijackers, Soviet agents, the evil Darth Vader and pharmaceutical red tape. Now, late into his sixties, he is ready to take on aliens.
Ford plays Woodrow Dolarhyde, a wealthy, cantankerous cattle owner from the 1800’s, who spends as much time bailing his son Percy (Paul Dano) out of trouble as he does herding cows. After Percy is arrested for shooting a government agent, Woodrow rides into town with his hired hands to force the sheriff (Keith Carradine) into setting the wayward boy free. Unfortunately, Percy is ready for transport to federal court and handcuffed to Jake Lonergan (Daniel Craig), a man who recently woke up with a strange metal band on his arm and no memory of the lengthy criminal record he has amassed.
The plot (minus the strange bracelet that emits blinking lights and strange sounds) sets up the perfect Western conflict between the local law enforcer and the rancher who thinks he is above the rules everyone else has to live by. However, that’s only half the story. As the bickering begins between the two strong-willed men, lights appear on the horizon and soon the dusty street is under attack from alien ships that lasso people and haul them off to an undisclosed location. (In the midst of the mayhem, Jake frees himself from Percy by crushing all the bones in the boy’s hand so he can remove the shackles.)
In true cowboy fashion, the locals form a posse to pursue the invaders, relying on the skills of Woodrow’s native tracker (Adam Beach) to help them follow the massive footprints that lead out of town. Jake joins the group though he chooses to remain aloof as much as possible.
It’s one thing to watch a US Marine platoon blast aliens with high-powered artillery in Battle: Los Angeles. But fending off advanced intelligences with pistols and lever-action rifles seems ridiculous. Fortunately the local Indian tribe arrives with their spears and arrows to aid in the effort. Yet despite the archaic implements of war, massive explosions, bloody injuries and corpses are abundant. As well, the men frequently resort to the most basic of weapons—their fists—to inflict injury and death.
While the setting may be different, the script doesn’t offer much that we haven’t seen in this genre before including rather gruesome-looking extraterrestrials. What proves more interesting to watch is the handing over of the reins from one generation of action hero actor to the next. In the original Indiana Jones trilogy, Ford played the agile young adventurer opposite aging James Bond actor Sean Connery. In this film, a gingerly moving Ford surrenders the rough and tumble scenes to the grim and serious star of Casino Royale.
Whether these two powerhouse Hollywood actors will be enough to help this predictable alien invasion adventure earn gold at the box office will have to be seen. In the meantime, viewers who want action without a lot of gore may have to hunt for other entertainment options than these Cowboys and Aliens have to offer.
Discussion Ideas After The Movie
Teaching ideas and topics to discuss about Cowboys and Aliens.
Mixing genres isn’t uncommon. Romantic comedies (When In Rome), horror thrillers (The Village), dramatic comedies (Everybody’s Fine) fantasy romance (Twilight) and erotic thrillers (Chloe) all combine different genres. Even sci-fi action films (Wolverine) have been around for a while. But do you think the western genre works with sci-fi? Why or why not?
Many of the characters in this movie lose their memories of their past lives, at least temporarily. What are the challenges they face because of that? What difficulties does the memory loss pose for their loved ones?
Hollywood seems to be obsessed with youth. How does that impact aging actors? Do you think it is easy to be an older man or older woman in the film business? What kind of roles are most often available to seasoned performers?