Cameron J (au)
3/5 - Good. When it comes time to ride out, conventions, sentimentality, an aimless structure, and ambition threaten the film, but more-or-less barely, as the sweeping score, immersive production value, colorful storytelling and charismatic performances and chemistry, all behind an adventurous, when not tasteful story, that make Mark Rydell's "The Cowboys" a delightful and often piercingly emotional portrait on the trials and tragedies on the path to adulthood in the Old West. I've said it before, and once again I'll boast that this is a purely fun film, but not simple, because even though it has its minimalisms, more than that, it has heart, and enough of it in storytelling execution and acting to make a thoroughly enjoyable western. These leads are, of course, made all the more memorable by memorable portrayal found across the board, from the charming John Wayne and Roscoe Lee Brown, - as well as a chillingly antagonistic Bruce Dern - to the surprisingly solid cast of young talents, all of whom make the charm all the more electric with a chemistry that defines the comradery which in turn defines this coming-of-age affair. 's script has enough witty color to its dialogue and set pieces to endear, and yet, it's true achievement is often genuine characterization that draws memorable, sympathetic leads. Even Irving Ravetch's and Harriet Frank, Jr. For all the natural shortcomings and, for that matter, conventions, the narrative is conceptually refreshing, as well as adventurous and tender enough to hold a solid deal of potential that is done justice by the storytelling. The film is a fun one, with heart, and such thorough, well-crafted entertainment value makes up for a lot of shortcomings to a story whose interpretation still wouldn't be so compelling if it wasn't promising as an idea. Production value and even musical value, like I said, establish a sense of adventure, and it is anchored by lively directorial storytelling by Mark Rydell that keeps up tight momentum throughout the flick, occasionally broken by some tastefully somber moments that range from intriguing to moving, if not downright powerful. Still up-and-coming at this time, John Williams showcases exciting samples of the conventional, but still grand scoring sweep that is now iconic, mixed in with classic western sensibilities, in order to capture a sense of adventure, like production value which is minimalist and conventional for a western, but razor-sharp in selecting distinguished locations. As things stand, however, inspiration goes a long way in making a rewarding drama that showcases the rise of men, and even the rise of a music legend. When you get down to it, as much as you don't want this fun film to end any time soon, you can't help but wondering if it's actually going anywhere with all of its dragging and uneven sense of consequence, both of which could drive a lesser film into underwhelmingness. It at least feels that way, as the highlights in question are spread out relatively few and far between by meandering filler that play an instrumental role in getting this film to a runtime of about 132 minutes so unreasonable that, as predictable as the narrative is in certain areas, it becomes difficult to tell where exactly things are heading. This film has some rich dramatic highlights as a human study on coming of age and growing old, between which is compensation through a sense of adventure, though not much beyond that, thus, the final product holds a potential to be dramatically underwhelming. There is some risky dialogue and content for a film of this time and nature, and this inconsistency in maturity reflects an ambition to make this thing a little edgier, or at least more genuine than the usual Hollywood affair, ultimately held back by the Hollywood safety, though not as much as it is held back by natural shortcomings to the story itself. The drama is an often sentimental, if not melodramatic study on boys being guided into adulthood by an old man who grows increasingly more aware of his youth and mortality, and when it's not that, and more inconsequential, it tries to compensate for a lack of dramatic edge with other forms of edge. The film seems to try and freshening things up in a lot of ways, and is often successful, but when it's not, it dives pretty deeply into formula, if not predictability, and a little too superficially at times. I never could have imagined seeing John Wayne kick some butt alongside a nerd, yet here it is, and, you know, jokes aside, it does indeed make for a better film than it does a TV show, apparently, despite its flaws. Okay, maybe this film doesn't have quite the respectable ensemble cast of something like "How the West Was Won", because it even predated the moderate success that Robert Carradine saw in, well, of all things, "Revenge of the Nerds". before he was famous (Man, Bruce Dern is old). . . Roscoe Lee Browne, Colleen Dewhurst, Stephen Hudis, A Martiniez and - oh - Bruce Dern. . . I don't even know if this film is that much more successful than Rydell's other filmmaking endeavors, because it barely exceeded its budget upon release, which is shocking, considering that it stars such mega-stars as John Wayne. A good film doesn't necessarily make for a good television, yet that didn't stop Mark Rydell from going on to turn to TV after this film, at least for success. I'd say that it's a testament to the success of this film that it inspired an ABC program, but the TV spin-off to "How the West Was Won" didn't have but 25 forgotten episodes, and it was still way more successful than this film's spin-off. I don't know if I'm more amused by the sheer genericism of this film's title, or the fact that it must not be that generic, seeing as how the only thing that took that title since this film was its TV series spin-off. As many westerns as John Wayne has been involved in, at this point, he just quits and goes for a film that is simply titled "The Cowboys"