Director: Clint Eastwood
Stars: Clint Eastwood, Eduardo Minett, Natalia Traven
Now 91, it’s somewhat remarkable that Clint Eastwood is still making movies at all, let alone making them with such irrepressible regularity. Not only that, but he’s taken to appearing in front of the cameras once again, doing double duty as each brings the prospect of becoming his swan song. His last actor/director offering was the impressive The Mule, which played knowingly with the man’s own outlaw legend. Cry Macho offers a gentler approach to his same legacy with the western.
A Tex-Mex yarn that might make for a good double-bill with John Carroll Lynch’s similarly toned Lucky, Cry Macho finds Eastwood fitting comfortably into the role of crotchety old rodeo hand Mike Milo – a character ultimately indistinguishable from an Earl Stone or Walt Kowalski. When we meet Mike he is being kindly put out to pasture by his boss Howard (Dwight Yoakam) with one last job on the ledger; retrieve his estranged son from a desolate life south of the border.
Mike takes the job – what else is he to do? – and makes fast work of finding the half-Mexican boy, Rafo (Eduardo Minett), but their journey north is the far shaggier dog. Along the way the old man and the boy lose a car or two, lay low from the law, and fashion a wryly touching bond to one another. Macho, for reference, is the name of Rafo’s pet fighting rooster, also along for the ride.
So what we’re dealing with here is a road movie set at a casual canter; an odd couple piece set to a warmly plucked guitar, sporting an old man’s kindly sense of homour. It’s old-school charming, like Lynch’s The Straight Story. Peppered with home truths and life lessons, while always airing on the side of the sardonic rather than the schmaltzy.
Eastwood has made enough career-summating character pieces now that Cry Macho feels a little like a soft echo of more prominent past glories, but it has enough of its own easy-going pleasures to make the trip more than worthwhile. As with pretty much all of his late-period films, it’s an undeniably handsome piece, shorn of anything fancy or extra, but more than just workmanlike. With a rascal spirit behind those ol’ blue eyes, one could readily imagine Eastwood fashioning this same movie at any time in his last 40 years. It is as timeless as he is, even if lines like “I don’t know how to cure ‘old'” register as more pointedly mortal than they may have before.
Mortality does course through the film. How could it not? Mike’s last job for Howard has the sense of a last hurrah for the character, who is made to feel young-at-heart again through the lightly comic exploits he has with Rafo, as well as the various acts of hospitality they both encounter from the Mexican people they meet. Rafo spins Mike some line mid-film about the Mexican people being very friendly (as they steal a car he insists has been ‘lent’ to them). But as Cry Macho unfurls, one senses more honesty in this moment than we were led to believe. For all the western (both classic and neo) has done to demonise Mexico, Eastwood’s movie makes amiable efforts to redress the balance.
Any sense of genuine threat is largely kept at bay. Federales clip at Mike and Rafo’s heels (this is a kidnapping, after all), but not to the degree that we’re led to feel any serious danger. Cry Macho rolls toward the American/Mexican border at a steady 20mph, with rarely the impetus nor inclination to press down on the accelerator. When the company is this fine, who minds? In the face of his advancing years, it’s kind of nice to feel as though Eastwood has all the time in the world.