2011-07-29

Cowboys and Aliens – Finding God’s Help

by Yo Snyder

With a straight forward title like Cowboys and Aliens, there
shouldn’t be too many surprises as to what you’re going to get. And
truth be told, there aren’t too many surprises in this movie, but it’s
still a lot of fun to watch. Odd as it may sound, this is a thoroughly
serious Western that just so happens to have aliens and a little sci-fi
tech in it. Think 3:10 to Yuma but with aliens and space ships.

Of course the big thrill of this movie is seeing James Bond (Daniel
Craig) and Indiana Jones (do I even need to say that it’s Harrison
Ford?) on screen at the same time. As you’d expect, both deliver fine
performances although they are a bit one-note. Daniel Craig is just
about the toughest he’s ever been, but there aren’t many scenes where he
isn’t doing his tough-guy, lone gunman, don’t mess with me routine.
Same with Harrison Ford, he’s a grizzled war vet who runs a ranch and a
town with an iron fist, although deep down he probably has a heart of
gold…tarnished gold, but gold nonetheless. He pretty much growls his
way through the whole movie, which is a nice change from some of his
more mopey roles of late, and is also just as tough as ever. These two
leads anchor the movie and they’re fun to watch, but neither are what
you’d really call a hero, which makes it hard to invest in any of these
characters and therefore it’s hard to care too deeply about anything
that takes place, but it’s still fun to watch.

Director Jon Favreau has repeatedly said that they wanted to make a
real Western with this movie, but one that just happens to have aliens.
Well, in that regard they’ve definitely succeeded. In fact, the whole
first thirty minutes, for the most part, plays out pretty much like any
classic cowboy movie where a lone stranger comes into town and stands up
to the corrupt cattle rancher who runs it. Of course, then the aliens
come and suddenly these two antagonists need to work together to save
the people they care about. Yet, even when the aliens show up, this
remains a pretty gritty and serious cowboy movie, with very little
levity.

Personally, I’m glad that they took this all seriously despite the
silly sounding premise, but a few more moments of awe and wonder over
the craziness of aliens invading the old west would have been nice. As
it is, these characters seem to accept the extraordinary a little too
readily, and with the same grim determination the use to face everything
else. There’s one scene where Daniel Craig’s character, after jumping
on one of the alien machines as it flies through a canyon to rescue
Oliva Wilde’s character, comments with just a bit of awe on the fact,
“We were flying. I don’t want to do that again.” It’s a great moment
that captures how someone from that era would react to the amazing
things the aliens could do, and it would have been nice to have more
moments like that.

One of my favorite characters, however, was Clancy Brown’s preacher.
He was a tough, pragmatic but caring man of God in the old west. He and
Sam Rockwell, who plays the Doc, have some nice scenes that are among
the few quiet ones in the movie. As the preacher tries to teach the Doc
to shoot and take care of himself, he talks a lot about God. Doc
mentions that God hasn’t done him any favors of late, and Preacher
mentions that we can’t just leave it all up to God to make everything
honky dory, he wants us to do some of the work ourselves; hence the need
for Doc to practice shooting. Now, the Bible doesn’t say “God helps
those who help themselves”, but it does say God is an ever ready source
of help. Help; which implies that he’ll assist but he’s not going to do
all the work for us. He’ll equip and encourage and comfort and more, but
he isn’t just going to wave a magic wand to fix all of our problems.
Why? Because we wouldn’t grow that way. God loves us, and he loves us
too much to play nursemaid and genie. When we face tough, disappointing
and tragic times, he’ll always be there to help get through to the other
side, and in doing so, will help us become all the better for it.

Despite all that, Cowboys and Aliens isn’t the most profound
movie of all time, but it is great fun. It delivers on all it promises
with it’s title. The action is almost non-stop, and often pretty brutal,
and at times a little messy (especially with the aliens), so it’s not
something for the kids. The film also suffers from taking itself a
little too seriously at times and from characters that just don’t change
all that much over the course of this adventure. Despite this one-note
nature to the proceedings, it’s still solid summer movie fun. Anyone
who’s a fan of a good ol’ fashion cowboy movie or who likes sci-fi
flicks will find something to enjoy with Cowboys and Aliens.