Review: Space Cowboys (2000)


His career by then beginning to sag noticeably, Eastwood boldly entered the new millennium with Space Cowboys, an age-defying action movie. Uniting the director with the most star-studded cast he had yet employed — Tommy Lee Jones, Donald Sutherland, James Garner, James Cromwell — it sees the Hollywood veterans laugh in the face of the younger generations.
An ex-Air Force scientist denied the chance to go into space following the establishment of NASA, long-retired Frank Corvin is called upon to bring down a dangerously unstable Russian satellite which employs a now-archaic system he designed. Spying the opportunity to achieve his onetime dream, he rounds up the old team for one last mission.

Given Eastwood’s less than successful reputation with action films, the very idea of Space Cowboys is enough to make one wince with worry. Impressive though the cast of highly esteemed names may be, it does little to assuage the boding sense of apprehension stemming from the film’s swollen budget and far-fetched high-concept premise. Given the collective age of the assembled acting heavyweights, one gets the impression that Space Dinosaurs would be a more fitting title, each of the main cast decades beyond their prime. Given the sheer audacity of the film’s central concept, it actually manages to explain the complex diplomatic machinations which facilitate NASA’s deployment of a force of geriatrics into space rather well. Given that Corvin is literally the only man for the job — his satellite design predates both electronic records and every engineer still employed — the government’s acceptance of his demands is somewhat less fantastical, especially considering the delicate balance of international relations thereon dependent. Nevertheless, cynicism and disbelief are best left at the door of Space Cowboys, enjoyment of the film hinging heavily upon one’s willingness to embrace its facetious conceit. Beyond the accentuated age of its protagonists, the narrative structure conforms neatly to what one might expect from a story like this: a steady course of training exposes the crew’s shortcomings, they overcome the problems they encounter, an unprecedented issue arrives to threaten the success of the mission, a creaking cliché steps in to assist, teetering on the edge of deus ex machina territory. A great story it ain’t, but Space Cowboys is less concerned with presenting a believable tale than it is in having fun with the absurdity of its idea. There is something genuinely charming in seeing these old actors sharing the screen, discarding their age and the limitations thereof and behaving like a group of ill-disciplined fratboys, cracking jokes and competing physically and sexually. One gets the sense that this, more than anything else, is what the film is all about: the participants’ tongue-in-cheek acceptance of their own age, and a bold defiance of the societally imposed limitations thereof. In a way, the absurdity and ridiculousness of the premise is intentionally overplayed, allowing these onetime cowboys to ride again and feel the vigour of youth. And who are we to deny them that?

Though its utterly ludicrous story requires a substantial suspension of disbelief, one gets the impression that Space Cowboys plays upon just that very aspect of itself, breathing a renewed life into its elderly participants and vicariously so into its audience. An ode to youth and a firm middle finger to the limitations of age in the Hollywood system, one cannot help being drawn into its fantasy. Old men in space is an absurd conceit, but so too is old men making an action movie. Space Cowboys was Eastwood’s bold declaration that, even at 71, he remained a force to be reckoned with. Considering his output in the years to follow, it seems he might just have been onto something.

68/100 - An ode to youth and a firm middle finger to the limitations of age in the Hollywood system, Space Cowboys was Eastwood’s bold declaration that he remained a force to be reckoned with.


Ronan Doyle

Having spent the vast majority of my life sharing in the all too prevalent belief than cinema is merely dumbed-down weekend escapism for the masses, I was lucky enough to turn on a television at the exact right moment to have my perspectives on the medium completely transformed. Those first two and a half hours marked the beginning of a new life revolving around—maybe even depending upon—the screen and the depth of artistry, intellectual stimulation, and emotional exhilaration it can provide.