Cry Macho is the latest instalment in the Clint Eastwood series of movies you could loosely call the “old guy’s last hurrah”. Like Gran Torino and The Mule, it’s a moment to be reminded of past glories as well as be entertained, all the while marvelling at at Eastwood’s remarkable career and long life.
Clint Eastwood was 90 when he was making this film and at an age when many people are being spoonfed, he is starring, directing and producing. He also writes some of the instrumental music. He appears in every scene. Like most late-period Eastwood movies starring the man himself, this is as much about the Eastwood myth behind as well as in front of the camera as any character portrayed on screen.
So scant is its plot that it comes as something of a shock to realise that it’s actually based on a book (written in the 1970s by N Richard Nash) – man (Clint) is tasked with picking up wayward kid (Eduardo Minett) in Mexico to bring him back to his estranged dad (Dwight Yoakam, barely in it) in Texas. The old guy and the kid have adventures along the way, the kid learning what it is to be a man, the old fella having a few ornery lumps knocked off his exterior.
So familiar is it, in fact, that you only need to half watch. Mike (as Clint’s ex-rodeo rider character is called) dispenses old-guy wisdom (ie insults) as well as humour (more insults). The kid Rafo is brattish in a likeable way. They stop at a roadside diner where a conchita of a certain age makes eyes at wizened old Mike (Eastwood’s insistence on his amatory allure even at an advanced age being one of those things you’re either going to feel indulgent about or not. He did something similar in The Mule.)
Minett, as the kid, knows exactly why he’s here and gives just enough of a performance to be plausible and not block the star’s light. If Gran Torino was playing songs in the key of Dirty Harry, Cry Macho is more of a homage to Clint’s less iconic films – like Thunderbolt and Lightfoot (older guy and younger guy on the road) or Bronco Billy (old cowboys never die).
A bag of clichés or a collection of mythic tropes – take your pick. I started off thinking “Oh god, what on earth has he gone and done?” and by the end of it had had my cold heart softened just by the sheer straightforwardness and likeability of it all, especially when the duo get held up in Mexico and Mike becomes a kind of Dr Dolittle to the locals’ animals and gets all misty-eyed over diner owner Marta (Natalia Traven).
Here and there things seem to veer, like when Mike says to Rafo, “You’re kind of growing on me, kid,” precisely the sort of “tell don’t show” dialogue that Eastwood’s mentor Don Siegel would have laughed at. But Ben Davis’s cinematography is clean and crisp and beautiful and the country-inflected twangy soundtrack by the versatile Mark Mancina (everything from bad-cop thriller Training Day to girl-power comedy Moana) hits the right spots and it’s interesting watching Clint extending his acting into new territory – his old guy in love thing is really rather remarkable to behold.
Everything just works. Clint might be an exception to that statement, however. I mean, 90 is old, though he’s probably playing about 70, and while a bit of digital de-ageing in post production can’t be ruled out – he looks remarkably fresh here and there – the limbs are stiff and the back is bowing.
If you’re an either/or sort of person, this film is probably going to go on the “nah” pile. But if you’re prepared to take rough with smooth, there’s plenty to enjoy here and there is something about Eastwood’s pared-back storytelling style that’s still incredibly refreshing.
Macho, by the way, is the name of the kid’s cockfighting rooster. It has no bearing on the plot whatsoever.
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© Steve Morrissey 2021