This is the kind of film I'm a little iffy about, I did not know if I really wanted to see it. I'm not into cowboy movies and the whole idea of cowboys and aliens in the same movie sounded a bit too weird, even for me. I am so, so glad that I did watch it, however. The plot is superb, the characters have depth and it might have lots of clichés, but they are done with such aplomb that they all but feel new.
The basic premise of the film is aliens have come to the Wild West and are abducting humans. When they abduct the wrong people they end up with a posse on their arses. A woefully outgunned and out matched posse, but the moral of the film should be 'don't mess with humans, they will find a way to kick your arse no matter how many of them die first'.
Daniel Craig is gruff and tough as Jake, or rather I should say the unknown man since at the beginning of the movie he doesn't remember a thing. The who he is, is resolved pretty quickly, although not his memory issues, which make for some nice drama throughout the film. I have to admit I don't like Mr Craig as Bond, but I love him to pieces as Jake. He's rough, he's ready and he's exciting, as well as being rather pretty to look at.
The film starts off as if means to go on with brutal action. Jake wakes up in the desert with no memory, no shoes, hat or coat and a hole in his side. Within five minutes he's kicking the crap out of several people and gaining a dog before heading off to the small town of Absolution; it's very much an action movie.
The rest of the cast also live up to expectations and I'll take about them in order of appearance.
Clancy Brown plays Meacham the preacher (something I had to come to terms with because I always see him as the Kurgan from Highlander even though it's been 25 years) and he is superb. He's tough, while being, probably, the most likeable character at the beginning of the film.
After the preacher we meet Paul Dano as Percy, the no good son of the local cattle man Woodrow Dolarhyle, who's cattle keep the town afloat. Percy is a drunk, a layabout, a bully and an idiot and he's only really there as motivation, but he's still worth a mention.
Then we have Sam Rockwell as Doc, who is basically the Wild West equivalent of a nerd. He runs the saloon, is actually a doctor, but can't shoot a gun to save his life so gets pushed around, apparently usually by Percy. I'm very used to seeing Sam Rockwell play really bad guys like in The Green Mile, but he pulls off Doc as slightly pathetic, but still likeable.
This is the point we also catch a glimpse of Adam Beach as Nat Colorado. He seems to be a yes man for Percy, but keep an eye on him, he's important and gives a superb performance.
Of course no modern film is complete without the strong female character and for this we have Olivia Wilde as Ella. I didn't like her much at the beginning, she looks like she's in her PJs and her character felt a little thin, but once the action really starts she grows and by the end I was rather fond of her.
There is also the required child character because it's a 12A. He is, however, useful and interesting and doesn't whine all the way through like some child characters have been known to do. His name is Emmett and he's played by Noah Ringer.
Meacham has the best line about the suspension of disbelief required for the rounded character segment as the heroes set out on their quest: "Yes, ma'am. We've got a kid, a dog, why not a woman?" It's nice to know the writers at least knew what they were doing when they did it.
Of course the big name I haven't mentioned yet is Harrison Ford. I don't think I've actually ever seen him in a movie where he doesn't at least look like the good guy at the beginning. He is a ruthless cattle baron who expects absolute loyalty and doesn't take shit from anyone. He is anything but likeable, but he is a great character. Our Mr Ford once again shows what a superb actor he is.
It is a great cast and there's a good solid plot to go with them. The use of Jake's memory loss to bring the audience in and discover things as he does is well done and means there doesn't need to be a huge info dump to a third party at any time to bring us up to speed. If you can accept the fact that there are aliens in the old west, the rest of the plot hangs together really rather well. I don't want to give you spoilers so I won't mention too much, but the aliens have a solid reason for being there and the only thing I did think was a little weak was their reason for abducting humans. It works, kind of, but it could have been slightly deeper, because, boy were they slow if they were doing what they were supposed to be doing.
This film is never going to win awards for deep intellectual plotting. The way Jake eventually gets his memory back is a cliché to end all clichés, but it doesn't pretend to be anything else. This is an action adventure scifi movie with cowboys and it isn't attempting to be Alien or 2001, it's just fun. The special effects are good, the plot is good, the characters are great and the acting holds it all together. I would recommend this film to anyone who enjoys a good action movie with a slightly hard edge. Not one for the younger viewers though, given some of the scenes I was surprised it had a 12A rating.
It's coming out on DVD/Bluray in the US on the 6th Dec 2011 and on 26th Dec 2011 in the UK, so add it to your wishlists.