starring Daniel Craig, Harrison Ford, Olivia Wilde, Sam Rockwell
screenplay by Roberto Orci & Alex Kurtzman & Damon Lindelof and Mark Fergus & Hawk Ostby
directed by Jon Favreau
by Walter Chaw Let's be clear: if there were a Hippocratic oath for movies, and there should be, it would be "first, do not suck." It's not about any desire for depth in something called Cowboys & Aliens, but rather the hope that the movie achieves some kind of baseline competence without, along the way, tripping off issues it doesn't have the muscle to address and therefore shouldn't also try to ride to an illusion of depth. It's the difference between Brett Ratner using the Holocaust as a plot point in X-Men: The Last Stand and Matthew Vaughn doing the same in X-Men: First Class; I mean, talk about it or not, but if you bring it up, have something to say. So when Cowboys & Aliens director Jon Favreau casts Adam Beach as the adopted--and hated--black-headed stepchild of racist cattle baron Dolarhyde (Harrison Ford, gruffing it up in a role named after the serial killer in Red Dragon), he needs to do better than offer up a noble Redskin who, with his last martyred breath, all but invites his would-be dad to go be white with his real boy, Dolarhyde's psychotic son Percy (Paul Dano). It's the message of the film, sort of, where no message was necessary or even welcome--this transformation of Dolarhyde from a rawhide-chewing bastard into a dewy-eyed, dyed-in-the-wool liberal who lowers himself to rescue the chief savage (Raoul Trujillo) after taking a second to complain about the disconnectedness of Yankee leadership in the Union army. It's enough to root for the South to rise again.