The Cowboys - Movie Reviews - Rotten Tomatoes

The Cowboys Reviews

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Super Reviewer
½ August 22, 2010
A great John Wayne movie!
Super Reviewer
December 16, 2007
This is the best John Wayne's latter-day Westerns. He's more like grandfatherhood at his age to a group of young school boys as his drivers in order to get his cattle to market, but the kids learn well. Bruce Dern is on hand as the outlaw leader who fights our hero in one of the genre's most memorable (and violent) scenes since Red River.
Along as a second role model is Roscoe Lee Browne. Possessor of one of the greatest speaking voices in the English speaking world, Browne is the first black man they've ever met. In fact one of the kids uses the "N" word when first meeting him, out of ignorance more than racism. Browne sets them straight by example more than preaching.
The oldest two kids, A Martinez and Robert Carradine, have gone on to some considerable adult careers which they are still enjoying. All the kids are a winning bunch however.

Most quote: "We're burning daylight."
Cameron W. Johnson
Super Reviewer
June 20, 2014
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". 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. 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. 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 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... Roscoe Lee Browne, Colleen Dewhurst, Stephen Hudis, A Martiniez and - oh - Bruce Dern... before he was famous (Man, Bruce Dern is old). 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". 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.

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. 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. 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. 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. 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. 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. 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.

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. 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. 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. 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. Even Irving Ravetch's and Harriet Frank, Jr.'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. 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. 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.

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.

3/5 - Good
Super Reviewer
October 23, 2007
A John Wayne film that was brave enough to kill him before the film was over. The film seems like it could be a lighthearted affair. An old cowboy hires a bunch of near-do-well boys to help on a cattle drive. While the film produces some comedic moments, it never hides the harsh realities of the west. One of the boys is killed at the beggining while caught in a stampead. And the boys watch as John Wayne is gunned down trying to protect them from some cattle rustlers. The boys seek revenge and do some killing of their own. Much darker and better than I expected it to be.
Super Reviewer
½ June 23, 2007
I've broke my back once, and my hip twice. And on my worst day I could still beat the hell out of you.
Super Reviewer
March 18, 2007
My favorite John Wayne movie... Bruce Dern is awesome as a dirtbag, too!
½ October 9, 2015
We're going to finish the job.

Will Anderson needs to make a cattle run but all of the men have left town due to a gold rush. He is talked into hiring a bunch of boys ranging from 13-15 years old...maybe even some younger. He trains the boys and takes them across the west until they are approached by cattle thieves. The boys will quickly need to become men if they hope to protect the heard.

"I hope I ain't rode all the rough off of her."

Mark Rydell, director of On Golden Pond, The Rose, For the Boys, The River, The Fox, Even Money, and Intersection, delivers The Cowboys. The storyline for this picture is very well written and executed and contains the perfect blend of interesting characters, grit, and conflict. The acting is first rate and the cast includes John Wayne, Bruce Dern, Robert Carradine, Colleen Dewhurst, Roscoe Lee Browne, and Normal Howell.

"He got drunk on Sunday and married on Monday."

I came across this on cable and had to DVR it. This was way better than I anticipated. Usually when genres that do not normally have kids add them to the movie the movie turns out cheesy, this turns out very good (primarily because they tried to make it realistic and even have the kids killed in a few scenes). Overall, this is an entertaining and better than anticipated film.

"You black all over?"
"Except for the whites of my eyes."

Grade: B+/A-
½ September 20, 2013
A compelling story ultimately about growing up in the West, The Cowboys is more emotionally involved than most Westerns, and showcases one of John Wayne's best performances.
May 5, 2014
the best western. nuff said. a brilliant cast, an unforgetable performance, and the best coming of age story ever! the Duke will forever live on!
½ October 10, 2007
A coming-of-age film of the toughest sort. Far from Wayne's best, but nevertheless a movie whose ending ignites a heated discussion.
½ July 29, 2013
I've never been much of a John Wayne fan, always preferring the darker anti-hero take on westerns, most famously provided to us by Italians and Clint Eastwood. Still, there's a small amount of charm to this one.
February 24, 2013
John Wayne dies! Yes!! As you might gather I'm not a big fan of the Duke. I've always found him too patronizing and self-righteous for my tastes. So that premise alone was enough to sell me on this film.

I have to admit that I actually liked the Duke in this movie. He seems eminently more human and uncertain than I'm used to seeing. This is a man with actual character flaws. In other words he is playing a role instead of just trying to be what he thinks of as the ideal man. He also has a wife and his scenes with her seem actually comfortable and tender. Again, he seems human. This is a man aging, and he's not posturing about it like he was in the Shootist.

The real draw of this film is the fact that while John Wayne is the lead he's not what it's about. It's about the boys and their coming of age. The film is blessed with a string of good child actors and there isn't a single performance that feels out of place or unnatural. Usually kids trying to act tough come off as posturing so this is a pleasant surprise.

There were some complaints at the time about the film's implications of the necessity of violence for becoming a man but I don't see them. Sure, there's violence and danger in the film, and it is intimitely connected with the coming-of-age narrative, but it's never implying that such things are necessary. Wayne even tells 'em not to do it. There are plenty of films about coming of age in a war zone but nobody believes that you need a war to grow up. The confusion seems to come from the fact that it's a bit like a schoolboy's fantasy. Being a western hero was every American boy's dream for decades. It'd be like someone today claiming that superhero movies encourage the idea that you need your parents to die tragically in order to become a man. There is a certain amount of disregard for the cost of taking a life and I could have dealt with a bit more anguish over killing men, even evil ones, but at the same time it never takes the danger lightly.

The villain in this film is great. He's kind of a warm and friendly guy, who will threaten you to your face while still grinnin'. He's genuinely disturbing, which is fitting given his role. I'm told an entire generation of boys refused to give Bruce Dern a second chance as an actor because of this.

On a final note John Williams wrote the music for this (about five years before Star Wars) so even the score is wonderful. An excellent film!
½ February 3, 2013
This is one of John Wayne's later films which has him starring with Roscoe Lee Brown and trying to train young boys as cowboys. It is not Wayne's best films but as always Duke is entertaining
½ September 3, 2012
I rate very few movies as high as this. Loved it. Loved John Wayne and Roscoe Lee Browne. And the boys.

Interesting that I watched this on Labor Day. Child labor. Eleven boys no older than thirteen, riding herd on a cattle drive with a promise of fifty silver dollars each at trail's end. Obvious capitalist exploitation of children, comrades.

If you've never seen this movie, go rent it.
August 27, 2012
Really solid John Wayne film with a memorable ending. Roscoe Lee Browne was like the Morgan Freeman of his time--he should have received a ton of narration work with a voice like that!
June 3, 2012
This is a stupid movie with the weakest, gutless villain there has ever been in any movie and he kills The Duke and then a bunch of boys avenge him. Just plain STUPID!
One of the most boring, stupid and useless movies ever made!
½ January 15, 2012
77/100. Along with the Shootist, ranks as the best of the latter day John Wayne films. After his Oscar win in True Grit wrapped up his legacy as an American icon, his dozen or so films he did afterwards were more celebratory to his career as a whole. The theme of passing the torch to a younger generation is echoes in The Cowboys, and is a welcomed change to the typical Duke Western. Roscoe Lee Browne has an extremely memorable performance as the chef, and the Cowboys themselves were charming including the debut performance by Robert Carradine. Bruce Dern has never really impressed me, but he does a great job portraying the film's villainous coward. Director Mark Rydell did a fine job, but would have liked to see a marque director at the helm. Loved the ending and the movie in general.
½ July 4, 2011
Unforgettable performances by the Duke and Bruce Dern. Dern comes off as the absolute most villanous villan of all time.
½ July 13, 2010
Another good Duke western. It's a great change of pace from the other westerns Wayne made during this time. The entire cast of the kid "cowboys" worked great both in the script and in the cast.
½ February 22, 2010
The Cowboys was probably one of John Wayne's best, with a great story, acting, and, well, it's not exactly heavy on the gunfights, but for this one, that doesn't matter. It makes up for that in heart, and in meaning, because sometimes you can't just shoot your way out of trouble. (But you can certainly beat the crap out of the little punk that's causing it) Of all John Wayne's movies, this is probably the most dramatic, and that's why I enjoyed it.
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