Space Cowboys

USA/Australia 2000

Reviewed by Edward Buscombe


Our synopses give away the plot in full, including surprise twists.

1958, somewhere over a desert in the American West. Two US airforce pilots, Frank Corvin and Hawk Hawkins, eject when their experimental plane begins to break up. Both are members of an elite team of flyers named Daedalus. Later, in front of assembled press, the team are humiliated by being told they will no longer be part of the space programme.

Cut to the present. A Russian communications satellite is falling out of orbit. Its guidance system is based on a design by Corvin. NASA asks him to help fix it. Despite the opposition of General Gerson, a long-time enemy, Corvin persuades NASA to allow Team Daedalus to carry out the repairs in space. Corvin and his reunited team, comprising Hawkins, Jerry O'Neill and Tank Sullivan, embark on a programme of physical and technical training. Following a medical exam, Hawkins learns he has terminal cancer, but NASA allows him to carry on with the mission.

Once in space, the team rendezvous with the satellite, only to find the Russians have secreted six nuclear missiles inside it. Acting against Corvin's orders, Ethan Grace, a young astronaut accompanying Daedalus, unwittingly activates the missiles on the satellite, which damage Corvin's shuttle. Corvin manages to fix the satellite's guidance system and arrest its descent. He then decides to propel the missiles towards the moon, although there isn't enough fuel in the guidance rocket to do this. Hawkins volunteers to stay with the missiles and fire them so they will crash harmlessly on the moon. Corvin lands the disabled shuttle back on earth.


"I don't know how to break this to you, Frank, but you're an old man." This harsh truth delivered to Frank Corvin, a retired airforce pilot, by his former commander Gerson is intended to deflate his ambition to get into space. Instead it only increases his determination. One can imagine Clint Eastwood, who plays Corvin, faced with the evidence of his own ageing, being similarly provoked. The star is, after all, 70 years old, and sometimes he looks it, the lean features now a little scrawny, the hair wispier. There's courage in facing facts, making a virtue out of necessity.

Eastwood has always liked to poke fun at himself. In The Gauntlet (1977) Sondra Locke's character has a high old time deflating the macho ego of Eastwood's tough-guy cop, while his 1992 Western Unforgiven, in which his character, the elderly William Munny, struggles to mount his horse, anticipates much of the comedy of Space Cowboys. But in mocking his screen persona, Eastwood - who also directs Space Cowboys - avoids undermining its potency. In The Gauntlet he's man enough to get the job done; in Unforgiven he proves more than a match for the brutal Little Bill Daggett. So it is in Space Cowboys. The two earnest young things sent from NASA to persuade Corvin back to the fold (he knows how to fix the guidance system of a broken-down Russian satellite) discover him in flagrante with his wife. There's life in the old dog yet.

And in the other members of Team Daedalus, the crack flying squad which Corvin reunites. Donald Sutherland's O'Neill is still an incorrigible flirt, while Tommy Lee Jones' Hawk flies like a dream and romances a pretty young NASA engineer. Only Sullivan, played by James Garner, seems limited by his failing physique, huffing and puffing round the training track (although he's still a crack robotics expert). Like Eastwood's own production team, here assembled for the umpteenth time, Team Daedalus shows there's no substitute for experience.

Of course, if you've got the "Right Stuff" - the title of Tom Wolfe's influential book about the early years of the US space programme - age would seem to be no impediment. Indeed, Space Cowboys ploughs much the same furrow as Wolfe's work (itself turned into a movie by Philip Kaufman in 1983). As the military-industrial complex grows ever more powerful, so there is a more urgent need to believe it is still dependent on human qualities such as courage and resourcefulness: in other words, cowboy values. Several times Frank is accused of not being a team player, but it's his individualism that sees the mission through. By contrast, the two by-the-book young astronauts accompanying the old-timers are nothing but a liability.

Only one of the quartet, Hawk Hawkins, is overtly identified as a cowboy, introduced by a shot of his fancy boots. But the dividing line between the free spirits and the suits is absolute. It's rather over-egging the pudding that Gerson, up to his neck in the murky world of internal NASA politics, turns out to be covering up for his negligence - Frank's designs were stolen by the KGB while in Gerson's care, and subsequently used in a Soviet satellite - throughout the whole operation. Not that the old guys resist the new; far from it. In an oddly moving moment Hawkins, to whom we are introduced flying a vintage biplane, lovingly strokes the fuselage of a Stealth bomber. And when Frank finally gets to look down on Earth from space, a beatific smile spreads over his face.

Despite the poignancy of old age, the mood of the film is cheerful, sustained by the high spirits of the four veterans. Even Hawkins' terminal illness is played for comedy; in the final sequence Frank and his wife look up at the night sky wondering if Hawk reached his goal; we then cut to a shot of his body lying serenely on the lunar surface as on the soundtrack Frank Sinatra croons 'Fly Me to the Moon'.


Clint Eastwood
Clint Eastwood
Andrew Lazar
Ken Kaufman
Howard Klausner
Director of Photography
Jack N. Green
Joel Cox
Production Designer
Henry Bumstead
Lennie Niehaus
©Warner Bros. (US, Canada, Bahamas & Bermuda)
©Village Roadshow Films (BVI) Limited (all other territories)
Production Companies
Warner Bros. presents in association with Village Roadshow Pictures/ Clipsal Films a Malpaso production and Mad Chance production
Executive Producer
Tom Rooker
Production Co-ordinator
Andrew White
Unit Production Manager
Patricia Churchill
Location Manager
Kokayi Ampah
Location Liaison
Donald A. Kincade
Post-production Co-ordinator
Karen Shaw
Aerial Unit/2nd Unit Director
Craig Hosking
Assistant Directors
Robert Lorenz
Dodi L. Rubenstein
T. Rooker
Melissa Cummins Lorenz
Script Supervisor
Mable Lawson McCrary
Phyllis Huffman
Liz Keigley
Sari E. Keigley
Olivia Harris
Underwater Director of Photography
Pete Romano
Camera/Steadicam Operator
Stephen S. Campanelli
Additional Camera Operator
Leo J. Napolitano
Camera Operator/ Spacecam
Hans Bjerno
Visual Effects Supervisor
Michael Owens
Special Visual Effects/ Animation
Industrial Light & Magic
Special Effects Co-ordinator
John Frazier
Special Effects
Steven E. Bunyea
Ken Ebert
Joe Pancake
Steven Riley
Dominic V. Ruiz
John Wonser
Michael E. Burke
Gilbert Draper
Tom Frazier
Francis Pennington
Mark Sheaffer
Dana Wozniak
Jameson Levin
Mark Noel
Russell Nave
Bruce Hayes
Jeff A. Denes
David Amborn
Dwight Thomas Smith
Bryan A. Wohlers
Video/Graphics Supervisor
Elizabeth Radley
Video Graphics
David Watkinson
Art Director
Jack G. Taylor Jr
Lead Set Designer
Joseph G. Pacelli Jr
Set Decorator
Richard Goddard
Costume Designer
Deborah Hopper
Key Artists:
Tania McComas
Francisco X. Perez
Charlene Roberson
Key Hairstylist
Carol A. O'Connell
Jan Alexander
Pacific Title
Music Production Supervisor
Matt Pierson
Music Editor
Donald Harris
Music Scoring Mixer
Bobby Fernandez
"Espacio" - Mitch Holder; "Patricia" - Pérez Prado; "The Best Is Yet to Come", "Hit the Road, Jack" - Joshua Redman; "Grazin' in the Grass" - Boney James & Rick Braun; "Take It to the Limit" - Chad Brock; "Space Cowboy (Yippie-Yi-Yay)" - *NSYNC; "Last Night" - Larry Goldings featuring Maceo Parker & Fred Wesley; "Old Man" - Brad Mehldau; "Still Crazy after All These Years" (1) - Willie Nelson, (2) - Brad Mehldau Trio; "The Chain of Love" - Clay Walker; "I Only Have Eyes for You" - Alison Eastwood; "Fly Me to the Moon (In Other Words)" - Frank Sinatra with Count Basie & His Orchestra
Sound Design
Christopher Boyes
David Farmer
Sound Mixer
Walt Martin
Re-recording Mixers
Christopher Boyes
Michael Semanick
Supervising Sound Editor
Alan Robert Murray
Co-supervising Sound Editor
Bub Asman
Supervising Dialogue Editor
Lucy Coldsnow-Smith
Dialogue Editors
Kimberly Lowe Voight
Mildred Iatrou Morgan
Gloria D'Alessandro
Sound Effects Editors
Howard S.M. Neiman
Gary Krivacek
Steve Mann
Glenn Hoskinson
Jason King
Anthony R. Milch
Teresa Eckton
Ken Fischer
Phil Benson
Scott Guitteau
Juno J. Ellis
Thomas J. O'Connell
Denise Horta
Stephen Janisz
Dan O'Connell
John Cucci
James Ashwill
Supervising Editor:
Michael Dressel
Shawn Sykora
Butch Wolf
Bob Beher
NASA Consultant
Bobbie Faye ferguson
NASA Technical Advisers
Robert D. Cabana
Philip R. West
Lisa Malone
Brian Welch
Rick Hull
Brian Austin
Gordon Fullerton
Laura Rochon
Stunt Co-ordinator
Buddy Van horn
Animal Handlers
Studio Animal Services
Clint Eastwood
Frank D. Corvin
Tommy Lee Jones
Hawk Hawkins
Donald Sutherland
Jerry O'Neill
James Garner
Tank Sullivan
James Cromwell
Bob Gerson
Marcia Gay Harden
Sara Holland
William Devane
Eugene Davis
Loren Dean
Ethan Grace
Courtney B. Vance
Roger Hines
Rade Sherbedgia
General Vostov
Barbara Babcock
Barbara Corvin
Blair Brown
Doctor Anne Caruthers
Jay Leno
Nils Allen Stewart
Deborah Jolly
cocktail waitress
Toby Stephens
young Frank D. Corvin
Eli Craig
young Hawk Hawkins
John Asher
young Jerry O'Neill
Matt McColm
young Tank Sullivan
Billie Worley
young Bob Gerson
Chris Wylde
Anne Stedman
Jason's girlfriend
James MacDonald
Kate Mcneil
Karen Mistal
female astronauts
John K. Linto
male astronaut 1
Mark Thomason
mission control tech
Georgia Emelin
Jerry's girlfriend
Rick Scarry
State Department official
Paul Pender
JBC security guard
Tim Halligan
Manning Mpinduzi-Mott
1958 press reporter
Steve Monroe
J.M. Henry
centrifuge tech
Steven West
construction tech
Cooper Huckabee
trajectory engineer
Hayden Tank
Jock MacDonald
press reporter
Gerald Emerick
T-38 pilot
Reneé Olstead
little girl
Don Michaelson
NASA doctor
Artur Cybulski
press reporter 2
Gordon Owens
Steve Stapenhorst
vice president
Lauren Cohn
Michael Louden
young pilot 1
Deborah Hope
female engineer
Jon Hamm
young pilot 2
Lamont Lofton
KSC guard
Alexander Kuznetsov
Russian engineer
Erica Grant
female engineer
Warner Bros Distributors (UK)
11,731 feet
130 minutes 21 seconds
Dolby Digital/DTS/SDDS
Colour/Prints by
2.35:1 [Panavision]
Last Updated: 20 Dec 2011