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ON FAITH & MEDIA View Comments

Cowboys & Aliens

By
John Mulderig
Source: Catholic News Service


Daniel Craig stars in the movie "Cowboys & Aliens."
When aggressive extraterrestrials attack a ramshackle 19th-century frontier village in "Cowboys & Aliens" (Universal), the hopelessly outgunned townsfolk are—not surprisingly—perplexed. "Who are these celestial invaders, armed with machines that can fly," they seem to wonder, "and why are they interrupting our Western?"

While judgments may vary as to the aesthetic success of this experiment in genre bending, this much can be said with certainty: Interludes of harsh violence, ranging from brutal fistfights to more high-tech mayhem, restrict the appropriate audience for director Jon Favreau's adaptation of Scott Mitchell Rosenberg's graphic novel.

So, too, do some tacked-on but dubious theological trimmings. These come courtesy of the two-bit burg's resident preacher, Meacham (Clancy Brown).

Though the filmmakers have done enough research to create an atmospheric, if downbeat, evocation of the Old West, their inquiries do not seem to have extended to the Protestantism that prevailed amid the tumbleweeds. That much becomes clear when Meacham talks, incongruously, of granting "absolution" to another character.

That term, if it had meant anything to a minister of Meacham's ostensible stripe, would have been exclusively associated with the Catholic clergy, and therefore with the supposed "errors" of the Church of Rome. Yet Absolution, we learn, is also the name of the very town Meacham shepherds.

In the same conversation, Meacham seems to suggest that being true to ourselves is more important than following God's plan for us, though his phraseology—as supplied by no fewer than five credited screenwriters—is too diffuse to pin down precisely.

On the receiving end of Meacham's discourse is one of the two flawed heroes of the piece, ex-outlaw Jake Lonergan (Daniel Craig), a man who—as it develops—could certainly afford to be well shriven. At the moment, however, Jake can remember nothing of his past, sinful or otherwise, because he's just back from an alien abduction that left him with a bad case of amnesia and a strange bracelet on his wrist.

When the unwanted visitors follow up their rough treatment of Jake with the aforementioned assault on the local community, a posse is formed to pursue these inexplicable adversaries and rescue their victims.

Jake is joined, at the head of this hunt, by ruthless local cattle baron Woodrow Dolarhyde (Harrison Ford) and by mysterious stranger Ella Swenson (Olivia Wilde), who seems to know more than she's saying.

As the motley crew under their command gradually unites, both Jake and Dolarhyde show the better sides of themselves, returning us to the theme of reform and redemption.

Second chances have always accompanied westward expansion, at least onscreen So it's not surprising, perhaps that the sometimes clever, but ultimately unsatisfying "Cowboys & Aliens" works much better, in the end, as a campfire tale than as an intergalactic showdown.

The film contains intense, sometimes gory violence, including torture, brief partial nudity, ritual drug use, about a half-dozen uses of profanity, as well as a few crude and some crass terms. The Catholic News Service classification is L—limited adult audience, films whose problematic content many adults would find troubling. The Motion Picture Association of America rating is PG-13—parents strongly cautioned. Some material may be inappropriate for children under 13.

*****
John Mulderig is on the staff of Catholic News Service.





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Martyrdom of John the Baptist: The drunken oath of a king with a shallow sense of honor, a seductive dance and the hateful heart of a queen combined to bring about the martyrdom of John the Baptist. The greatest of prophets suffered the fate of so many Old Testament prophets before him: rejection and martyrdom. The “voice crying in the desert” did not hesitate to accuse the guilty, did not hesitate to speak the truth. But why? What possesses a man that he would give up his very life? 
<p>This great religious reformer was sent by God to prepare the people for the Messiah. His vocation was one of selfless giving. The only power that he claimed was the Spirit of Yahweh. “I am baptizing you with water, for repentance, but the one who is coming after me is mightier than I. I am not worthy to carry his sandals. He will baptize you with the Holy Spirit and fire” (Matthew 3:11). Scripture tells us that many people followed John looking to him for hope, perhaps in anticipation of some great messianic power. John never allowed himself the false honor of receiving these people for his own glory. He knew his calling was one of preparation. When the time came, he led his disciples to Jesus: “The next day John was there again with two of his disciples, and as he watched Jesus walk by, he said, ‘Behold, the Lamb of God.’ The two disciples heard what he said and followed Jesus” (John 1:35-37). It is John the Baptist who has pointed the way to Christ. John’s life and death were a giving over of self for God and other people. His simple style of life was one of complete detachment from earthly possessions. His heart was centered on God and the call that he heard from the Spirit of God speaking to his heart. Confident of God’s grace, he had the courage to speak words of condemnation or repentance, of salvation.</p> American Catholic Blog Just as my children become members of my family when I bring them into the world, so too our baptism incorporates us into the family of the Church. This supernatural membership prevents us from being orphans who have to fend for themselves in the spiritual wilderness.

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