#34 in my ranking of Clint Eastwood’s films.
Not nearly the disaster that some critics made it out to be but also not that good either, Cry Macho was a script that author N. Richard Nash had been trying to get made since the early 1970s. It only took 20 years after Nash’s death for Clint Eastwood to convince some WB executives to give him the money to make the film (a promise that they were convinced would lose the studio money which angered incoming CEO David Zaslav). With a rewrite by Nick Schenk, it really doesn’t feel like it’s had a polish or that it spent years getting passed around studios. However, I can easily see the appeal to Eastwood, especially so late in life.
When I first began looking through Eastwood’s directed work, I was struck at the similarities in thematic focus to Sam Peckinpah, but that sensation dissipated pretty quickly. Perhaps it was the proximity of my finishing the Peckinpah oeuvre, but here, at Eastwood’s last film, it feels like Eastwood made his own version of a Peckinpah movie entirely. Peckinpah would have made some script changes, and the production would have probably gone on for months instead of weeks, but this is a film about a man outside of his own time, looking back longingly on times that will never return, going into Mexico, and finding solace with a woman on the edges of civilization. Yup, this is practically a Peckinpah film.
Anyway, Eastwood plays Mike Milo, a former rodeo champ in 1979 sent down to Mexico by his former boss Howard (Dwight Yoakam) to find Howard’s son Rafo (Eduardo Minett), take him from his mother Leta (Fernanda Urrejola), and bring him back to Texas to live with his father. The film opens with one of the most bluntly written and acted scenes I’ve seen in a feature film with Mike driving into work late one morning only for Howard to describe in detail all he’s done for Mike in his life as well as all of Mike’s failings as an employee and man before he fires him. It’s honestly embarrassing made all the worse by the fact that Yoakam, who might be primarily a singer but has put in quality performances in other films in the past like Tommy Lee Jones’ The Three Burials of Melquiades Estrada, is awful and is the complete focus of the scene, delivering the vast majority of the lines. It’s the sort of blunt-force writing that dominates a first draft before any poetry has been added to the dialogue.
Nonetheless, the story continues a year later when Howard sends Mike down, and Mike finds himself in the middle of a conflict he doesn’t understand as Leta insults him, implies more about Howard’s motives, and lets Mike know that Rafo is a wild thing, out cockfighting and hating everything else about his comfortable life in Mexico City. When Mike finds him, minutes later, he finds it easy to entice the young man to make the trip up to Texas to live on a ranch with horses. The trip back begins, made difficult by the fact that Leta didn’t actually want Mike to succeed, so she sends her right hand man, Aurelio (Horacio Garcia-Rojas) to keep an eye on the situation and prevent Rafo from leaving the country.
The journey back doesn’t have the kind of elegiac tone that someone like Peckinpah would have brought to the story. Instead, it has Eastwood’s standard practice of professionalism that clearly tells the story in the most literal of terms. I think that denies the film of some of the power it could have had. In some ways, this is a journey into the past for Mike, to a time when he was useful, to when he had a family, and that requires some kind of feeling of magic to it.
The pair end up in a small town where they have to hold up to try and avoid both the rain and the encircling threat of federales who seem to be looking for them. There, they befriend the widowed owner of a small restaurant Marta (Natalia Traven) who helps protect them from the local deputy while Mike ends up working with the small corral of horses, using the time they have to train Rafo in how to ride while also tending to the local sick and hurt animals. It’s here where the movie reveals that it’s going to be just kind of nicely obvious about everything (I’m honestly surprised there isn’t dialogue equating Rafo with a wild horse that the horse trainer, Mike, needs to break). I started recalling The Mule, another nice and obvious film from Eastwood’s late period that had a light and comedic tone through a lot of it to carry the action. That’s missing from Cry Macho, which has this feeling of sedate introspection that’s not matched by great character work.
Mike is the broken down old cowboy who finds love again. Rafo is the young wild kid who learns from the old man. It’s really basic stuff, and the film never really gives much depth to these characters. I don’t think it’s helped by the fact that Mike was obviously written for someone about fifty years old while Clint was playing him at 91. He’s a surprisingly energetic 91-year-old man, but he’s still very much an old man with that old man gait who begins a romance with a middle-aged woman who could still be his granddaughter.
Everything ends without much tension or interest. It kind of just goes how you think it will without much in the way of surprises, but it’s not the worst thing to sit through. It has its charms, mostly around Eastwood’s performance despite the fact that he’s just too old for the part. He’s an affable guy who plays well with his cast, though Minett is another younger cast member Clint has brought on who needed more coaching than he was given. He’s game for the role, but Minett still feels stiff.
Is this the worst way for Clint Eastwood to stop making films? Not really, but it’s far from his best work. It’s nice, unchallenging, and not all that interesting, but it moves efficiently and gives its star one last ride in the saddle.