Cry Macho releases in theaters, and on HBO Max, on Friday, Sept. 17.
Clint Eastwood directs and stars in Cry Macho, a project that various studios and leading men have been trying to get off the ground since the book it’s based on came out in 1975. In Eastwood’s hands, filling the headlining role at 91, it’s a somewhat lethargic affair, with rudimentary emotion and a lifeless finish.
There’s a meta aspect to this movie, given that Eastwood, at his age, is playing the role of a long-forgotten rodeo champion who’s alone because of both tragedy and self-sabotage, but it’s nothing like the spotlight he beamed on the Western genre in Unforgiven. Here, like most other aspects of the film, it’s just a murmur in the midst of a very dry backdrop (and plot).
As Mike Milo, an elderly man sent to Mexico in 1979 to convince and/or kidnap his ranch-owning boss’ teenage son, Eastwood whispers his way through most of the movie, only really becoming engaging during Cry Macho’s best interlude, which involves a long and rewarding stay in a small town. When Eastwood is on his own, it’s hard to buy into his character being capable of this type of errand, or this sort of trek, but once he’s more tenderly paired with Eduardo Minett’s Raphael, Natalia Traven’s Marta, and the rest of an unintentionally uncovered south of the border paradise, he’s able to carve a more viable character out of the movie’s meager marble.
Minett is a solid sidekick most of the time, finding the best ways to form a bond with Eastwood’s spare and cantankerous performance. On paper, Mike and Rafo (Raphael’s nickname) are good road trip material. They’re a fine duo for an emotional journey that helps both lonely characters open up and find the love they’re either lacking or they’ve lost. But Cry Macho comes up just short of true catharsis most of the time, opting to underplay most situations and scenes to the point of banality.
The material here is basic enough to be able to make something good (albeit manipulative), but Eastwood chooses only to hand over something that feels less-than. Again, it’s a mostly dull attraction until Mike and Milo find peace and tranquility in a humble village, where Milo softens under the flirtatious and generous eye of the widowed Marta. Rafo too, having fled a truly abusive household, discovers kindness and camaraderie (and horses). In true Western form, however, their peace can’t/won’t last and eventually they’re forced to flee. What happens afterward, though, truly feels like the story just implodes and gives up.
As Mike’s boss Howard, Dwight Yoakam once again displays his knack for playing things slick and sleazy. It’s clear from the get-go that Howard has other designs for Rafo. He tells Mike that the boy’s mother is crazy (he’s not wrong) and that he wants to bring him to Texas and be a real father, but it’s easy enough to sniff out the lie here. Given that, the narrative beats, meaning how Mike will redeem himself, seem somewhat clear from the opening. That’s not a bad thing, necessarily. After all, stories move frequently in certain ways because that’s just how they work best. But the end resolution, both emotionally and situationally, comes off as simply not doing the bare minimum to give us a complete and satisfying story.
Rafo, who carries around a rooster he’s named Macho, has strong opinions about what it means to be strong and important, but you never get the sense he buys into it for real. Rafo has had to fit many different molds to survive, and most often he’s a hot-headed liar. But Mike never dishes out any sage wisdom to help Rafo, nor does their relationship cap off in a believable manner. When the film is just able to present the two of them amicably, with no forced tension between them or no Federales chasing them, it’s a nice, majestic hang. When the drama starts up, the film’s not equipped to make it enticing or realistic.
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