Cry Macho

Director: Clint Eastwood
Screenplay: Nick Schenk and N. Richard Nash (based on the novel by N. Richard Nash)
Stars: Clint Eastwood (Mike Milo), Dwight Yoakam (Howard Polk), Eduardo Minett (Rafael “Rafo” Polk), Natalia Traven (Marta), Fernanda Urrejola (Leta), Horacio Garcia Rojas (Aurelio)
MPAA Rating: PG-13
Year of Release: 2021
Country: U.S.
Cry Macho
Cry Macho

Clint Eastwood is 91 years old, an impressive age to attain, let alone to still be producing, directing, and acting movies. And yet, here he is, refusing to step away or even slow down from the consistent production output that has defined his nearly seven-decade career in Hollywood. Eastwood has been acting in films for 66 years (his first roles were bit parts in low-budget fare in the mid-1950s) and directing them for 50 years (his feature debut was Play Misty for Me in 1971). His work as a producer/director has not flagged in the slightest (in the last decade alone he has produced and directed seven films), although as an actor has been decidedly more reserved; after his starring role in Gran Torino (2008) at the age of 78, which would have made a fitting capstone for his long career, he has starred in just two movies, Robert Lorenz’s Trouble With the Curve (2012) and his own The Mule (2017).

Eastwood is now stepping back in front of the camera with Cry Macho, a project that has been kicking around Hollywood almost for as long as Eastwood has been directing films. Author N. Richard Nash pitched it as a screenplay in the early 1970s and found no takers, so he rewrote it as a novel, which was published in 1975. In the early 2000s it was finally on its way to becoming a movie, at one point with Arnold Schwarzenegger in the lead, but got put into turnaround and languished for years before Eastwood took it up (having rejected the opportunity to make it back in the late 1980s). With that long history, one would think that there is something unique and compelling and difficult about Cry Macho, but, at least in Eastwood’s hands, it turns out to be a conventional unlikely-buddy movie, hinging largely on big themes of loss and redemption and male camaraderie.

Eastwood’s advanced age is both central to the film and entirely ignored, as everything in the plot would suggest his character, Mike Miko, is a man just entering the age of retirement, not in the twilight of his years. A former rodeo circuit rider whose glory days are long gone following a severe back injury, Mike is now a recovered alcoholic with no real friends of family to speak of—a genuine loner who clearly just wants to be left alone. Such is not the case when he is tasked by Howard Polk (Dwight Yoakam), his former boss to whom he owes a major favor, to go to Mexico and retrieve Howard’s teenage son, Rafo (Eduardo Minett), who he barely knows and hasn’t seen for years. Mike grudgingly takes on the assignment, which requires him to lock horns with Rafo’s wealthy, bitter, alcoholic mother Leta (Fernanda Urrejola), who appears to run a drug cartel or some other kind of nefarious business, and then find Rafo, who lives a mostly independent life of petty crime, street roaming, and cockfighting. Once Mike does find him, he easily persuades Rafo to come with him to the States, largely because Rafo craves attention from the father he doesn’t know. He insists on taking Macho, his prize rooster, with him, which turns their odd-couple pairing into an odd-trio.

The road back north is not as easy as Mike and Rafo hoped, as they are being pursued by Leta’s henchmen and they have their truck stolen. They wind up waylaid in a small, dusty town, where they take refuge in a diner run by Marta (Natalia Traven), a kind-hearted widow who takes a shine to Mike and takes them both in. Romance blooms between Mike and Marta, while Mike also continues to develop a surrogate father-son connection with Rafo, who displays more than anything a simple desire for normality.

While the structure is there for a meaningful drama, Eastwood as both actor and director simply can’t bring it together. With his rough, sometimes unintelligible voice and weakened gait, Eastwood certainly conveys a weariness of years and life, but his acting has never felt quite so obvious. Eduardo Minett is similarly mannered as Rafo, and their exchanges have a forced quality that keeps us at a distance. Natalia Traven has a natural grace as Marta, who is almost impossibly kind and generous, but her attraction to Mike never feels genuine. As a result, the film’s dramatic heft feels both lightweight and artificial, which is exactly the opposite of Eastwood’s best films, which were always economical, but deeply effective. Cry Macho, on the other hand, struggles to connect even as it wears everything on its sleeve, including the deconstruction of Eastwood’s iconic stature, something he has been doing in various ways since at least Play Misty for Me.

Copyright © 2021 James Kendrick

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Overall Rating: (2)

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