Here is a very positive, non-spoiler review of the first 40 minutes from aintitcool.
Hola all. Massawyrm here.
This past weekend at Butt-Numb-a-Thon, we were treated to the 40 minute opening of Jon Favreau’s upcoming summer blockbuster COWBOYS & ALIENS. While the effects and sound were still unfinished, the film was a smoothly edited, already perfectly structured 1st act introducing us to the characters – both good and bad – the situation and offered up hints that left a number of dangling threads leading into the second and third act. Unfortunately, as the film is so far out on the horizon (July), the offer to show COWBOYS & ALIENS came with the caveat that we couldn’t offer up spoilers or scene descriptions. What I can talk about is how good it is (thus far) and talk in some much more broad terms as to why this works – and might even prove to be better than any of Favreau’s previous films.
As many of you might remember, earlier this year in my IRON MAN 2 review, I laid out what I felt was Favreau’s only obvious flaw as a director: He likes his villains too much. I wrote: <I>There is a term in screenwriting called Saving the Cat - something Favreau does with Tony Stark repeatedly in both films. To put it simply, saving the cat is a little selfless moment that illustrates the goodness and moral center inside our hero. Despite the fact that Tony is a drunken letch who freely insults, demeans and sexually harasses those around him, we like him because at his core he is a really good guy with a heart of gold. And he shows that heart again and again. But good villains need the antithesis of that; they need a moment in which we see just how despicable they can be, so we, as an audience, enjoy watching them get the snot kicked out of them by the protagonist – in this case, Iron Man. But Favreau never really gives us those scenes. He loves his villains – casts incredible actors in their role and lets them have lots of fun chewing up the scenery. But because they never cross the line into true villainy – their beef is usually with Stark himself – we can only kind of enjoy their vanquishing. What I’m talking about doesn’t have to be as big as Grand Moff Tarkin’s ordering the destruction of Alderaan – it can be as beautifully succinct as The Joker’s pencil disappearing trick in THE DARK KNIGHT or Hans Gruber’s shooting Ellis to prove a point to John McClane in DIE HARD; it just has to be emotionally powerful enough for us to realize why this guy has to go down in the best way possible.
Many folks referred to this moment as <I>Shooting the dog. Since Favreau never let Ivan do anything really lowdown and despicable, you not only understand him – you kind of feel for him. And you get the impression that if Tony and Ivan would just sit down and share a bottle of scotch and a couple of high priced whores, that they could work their shit out and Tony could offer Ivan a job building insane shit for Stark Industries. Happy ending for one and all.
Well, Favreau doesn’t seem to have that problem anymore.
COWBOYS & ALIENS introduces us to not one, but two, despicable characters who, by the end of the first act, you loathe to their core. Each does something that makes you want to reach through the screen and smack the shit out of them – and while one of them repeatedly gets his comeuppance, the second is untouchable and becomes ever more sinister with every bullet he dodges. Making things ever more interesting, these two villains aren’t even the film’s true antagonists – merely forces against which our hero, an amnesiac played by Daniel Craig, must overcome (and possibly even work alongside) in order to survive and discover his true identity.
Craig is at his best here, giving the same kind of rugged-but-blank scoundrel-with-a-heart-of-gold performance that we saw out of him in CASINO ROYALE. Likewise Paul Dano continues to prove that he is one of the very best actors of his generation, turning in a blisteringly smarmy performance as a town ruffian. Meanwhile Sam Rockwell does everything he does well as the spineless local bartender and the legendary Clancy Brown plays the town preacher with all the gruff cool you want out of a Clancy Brown performance. But the real story here is Harrison Ford. Let’s face it, we love Harrison Ford, but he hasn’t done anything to the hilt in a long time.
Here, Ford is given a meaty, dark role that plays perfectly to his strengths as an actor, while allowing him to continue his graceful slide into the elder statesman style supporting roles that action great Charlton Heston so readily moved into as he aged out of leading man status. Ford delivers with all the grim authority and sardonic derision that he’s been trying to find a place for in recent roles, but found it hard to find a solid footing. Favreau somehow found the primer, and wrested from him his best performance in over a decade – even this early in the film.
The first act is perfectly constructed. Everything works. Despite being an early workprint, Favreau doesn’t have a single second of fat in this part of the film. It unfolds like a classic western, delivering violent twist after violent twist until it goes all FROM DUSK TILL DAWN and swerves into being a completely different kind of movie altogether. The chemistry between the cast is undeniable and the action – even sans expensive effects – was top notch. If Favreau can keep up the level of intensity he shows in the first act throughout the second and third, then this will no doubt be next summer’s epic success story.
July cannot come soon enough. Keep this on your radar.