When an aging Russian satellite suffers a system failure that could set it on a collision course for Earth, retired engineer Frank Corvin (Clint Eastwood) is called into help as his now outdated guidance system is what the satellite runs on. He blackmails his former boss Bob Gerson (James Cromwell) in order to get his old team back together to complete the mission, and soon Frank, pilot William “Hawk” Hawkings (Tommy Lee Jones), flight engineer Jerry O’Neill (Donald Sutherland) and navigator Tank Sullivan (James Garner) are all going through training at NASA to prove their fitness for the mission.
I love a good space movie, especially ones that focus on the technical aspects of space travel and have all the usual tropes with interesting characters in ground control as well as in space, office politics, and things not going to plan – Apollo 13 and The Martian are my favourite space films. Space Cowboys ticks all those boxes so I had a great time with this film.
The friendship between the old teammates is what really made Space Cowboys for me. So many of the scenes when they’re all together, just chatting, or messing around during their training were fun to watch. It all seemed so natural as they took the mick out of one another but also clearly cared about one another. Some of them hadn’t seen each other for years but the sign of a good friendship is being able to easily fall back into the old rhythms of a friendship like no time had passed at all.
The first two acts of Space Cowboys are Frank getting the team back together and them going through training together. There are the usual clichés of clashes between the old, would-be astronauts and the young, trained professionals but things never turn too nasty and as their training progresses you can see there’s a grudging respect between the two generations. The third act is the mission into space and naturally just about everything that could go wrong, does. There’s a bit of a farfetched reveal about the satellite but besides from that the mission in space is tense and action-packed.
As someone who grew up watching James Cromwell as the nice and gentle farmer in Babe, it’s been a weird experience watching the rest of his filmography as I get older, especially when he plays characters who aren’t that nice at all. Whenever he and Eastwood butt heads it’s fun to see but Cromwell’s character has such a shifty undertone to him it’s a bit disconcerting.
Have to mention the needle drop of *NSYNC’s Space Cowboy which was not a song I’d ever think would be in a Clint Eastwood movie but when the title works, it’d be a crime not to use it.
Overall Space Cowboys is a fun film with engaging characters. Sure, the main plot is saving a failing satellite but really it’s a film about friendship, loyalty, and trust and it has one of the most believable group of friends I’ve seen in film in a while. 4/5.