Space Cowboys

UK release date: Mar 26 2008

cast list

Clint Eastwood
Tommy Lee Jones
Donald Sutherland
James Garner

directed by
Clint Eastwood

The film opens in 1958 as we meet Team Daedalus, an Air Force group that look like they may be the first to go into space thanks to the team’s hotshot pilots, Frank Corvin and Hawk Hawkins. But Corvin’s refusal to be a “team player” (which doesn’t win him points with his superior officer, Bob Gerson) and Hawkins’ reckless flying (which has cost the Air Force several expensive planes) help wind up costing Team Daedalus their shot at space glory, instead giving that moment of glory to a chimpanzee.

Cut to present day where a Soviet-era satellite named Ikon is beginning to break down and is in danger of crashing back to Earth within a month, a crash that will supposedly cause severe telecommunications problems within the entire Russian Federation. Unfortunately, the Soviets who designed the satellite are either “breaking rocks in Siberia” or have passed away. Strangely enough, their guidance system is identical to America’s Skylab, which was designed by-you guessed it-Frank Corvin (Eastwood). Corvin has no real desire to go back to work for either NASA or Bob Gerson (James Cromwell), who is in charge of this rescue operation (Frank is still pissed off at Gerson for his backstabbing back in ’58), but realizing that this will be his last chance to go into space, he agrees to help if, and only if, the original Team Daedalus goes up with him. Gerson reluctantly agrees to allow it.

While they are now referred to as “The Ripe Stuff”, Corvin, Hawkins (Tommy Lee Jones), astrophysicist and aging ladies man Jerry O’Neill (Donald Sutherland) and navigator-turned Baptist preacher Tank Sullivan (James Garner) manage to keep up with the younger astronauts who are also part of the mission (Loren Dean and Courtney B. Vance) and at approximately the 80-minute mark of the film, head up into space to fix Ikon. Of course, once they get up there, things are not what they appeared to be back on Earth. Guess who has to save the day?

So okay, the screenplay by Ken Kaufman and Howard Klausner really does not scream “original”. The characters go through clich A to Z (how many times do we have to be told that Frank isn’t a “team player”? Once is more than enough. Four times is really pushing it) and once the film heads off into space, the movie begins to lose its punch. The character of the Russian general is almost an embarrassment to watch, reminding one of those horrible caricatures you would see in a Rambo film or even Eastwood’s 1982 insomnia curer, Firefox.

Still, when you have a cast that works this well together and directing that is more than competent enough to keep things moving along, it really is hard to go on about the screenplay. Eastwood’s movies always have a great ensemble cast and this film is definitely one of the best of Clint’s recent pictures. Eastwood, Jones (who hasn’t been this good in a film in quite some time), Sutherland and Garner are all excellent, never overshadowing one another. Their banter has the same, nice leisurely pace that Clint’s directing does here (even if that leisurely pace suffers in that last act up in space). By taking a relaxed pace both with the acting and directing, we are given a chance to get to know the characters and be a part of their adventure. James Cromwell, Marcia Gay Harden, William Devane and Blair Brown also turn in some very nice supporting work.

One area that the film is not too leisurely paced in is the technical area. Here, the movie is as good as anything out there right now. As with The Perfect Storm, Industrial Light and Magic have once again delivered the goods in the visual effects department, providing the viewer with gorgeous shots of our planet and some very convincing digital effects. Applause should also be bestowed upon Eastwood’s regular crew of pros: cinematographer Jack N. Green, composer Lennie Niehaus, editor Joel Cox and production designer Henry Bumstead. As usual, their work is first rate.

Space Cowboys, while flawed in story department, still manages to be very entertaining and involving thanks to the pros both in front and behind the character. Eastwood has yet to deliver another film on the same level as his masterpiece Unforgiven, but if he keeps turning out films as enjoyable as this one turned out to be, the wait will be an easy one.

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