Yet Eastwood can never really figure out how to develop these characters, and as the final act hits, he actually seems to forget that there was ever any nuance and dimension to Mike and Rafo’s relationship. It concludes like the awkward ending of a phone conversation where neither person knows if he should hang up first (this is the reason why people never say “bye” in movies).
Cry Macho finds conflict, but it never finds tension—almost literally. On their way back to the border, Mike and Rafo—who are being chased by the federales, mind you—keep stopping in these random diners to have coffee and beer. With hardly anything propelling the plot forward, the characters also have no urgency. Even the quest itself doesn’t have a timeline. And without that pressure, it’s really hard to have a fully formed movie.
And yet, Eastwood doesn’t seem all that interested in those typical conventions—the same ones he’s mastered several times over the course of his long career. Although this time, the film almost seems like it s directing itself, with only a DP behind the camera sending footage to an editor for post-production. Eastwood does make certain savvy choices now and again, such as the way he captures the spark of each and every one of his actors, humanizing all of them. Or how he doesn’t give us all of the subtitles the audience is an outsider just like Mike, and so we must have things translated for us as well, in the dark during certain conversations.
But then there are setups with no payoffs, such as an early scene where Rafo asks if he can wear Mike’s cowboy hat that never gets called back to, or a conversation with a deaf girl where Rafo asks what they’re talking about, to which Mike responds, “Wouldn’t you like to know?” Even the most casual moviegoer would expect this exchange to get flipped later on with the Spanish speaking teen alienating Mike from a conversation himself.
Despite his old age, Clint Eastwood has usually managed to at least seem like he’s younger than he is. But in Cry Macho, for the first time ever, the actor looks really old, and his age is distracting. Even before he gets romantically paired with an actress nearly 40 years his junior (God bless him), Eastwood moseys around, sleeps on the ground, gets tangled up with some local roughnecks, and rides a horse, all while the audience grimaces in fear of something terrible happening to the actor. In fact, this is the most suspense we feel throughout the entire movie.
Even when the film’s woes continue to add up, it’s able to entrance us with its scenic terrain and southwest basin and range topography. Cinematographer Ben Davis, who’s lifted every project he’s been a part of, from Tim Burton’s Dumbo to Seven Psychopaths, is really able to capture the depth of the landscape in New Mexico, where Cry Macho was filmed. What people will undeniably remember most from this movie is the elderly Eastwood attracting a beautiful 50-year-old widow, Marta (Natalia Traven). However, it may go understated how important this age gap is to the film’s thesis statement. She doesn’t see his frailty, but a man who has a total acceptance of self, no longer needing to show off or impress.
Oddly enough, Eastwood was offered the part back in the late ‘80s but turned it down. The window of opportunity may have closed for making this film as good as it could possibly be, yet there are enough personal touches and moments of grace to where it’s likely the actordirector himself is pretty satisfied with the results.
His costar Eduardo Minett is a functional wingman for Clint and has the charisma necessary for Hollywood, even if it makes him a little bit too likable for this particular role. Conversely, Traven is so undeniably endearing and motherly that she becomes the character we root for the most. We start not to care about the matters of our two leads if it means endangering Marta and her young grandchildren, who she’s raising following the death of their parents.
It might not be exciting or even good by traditional standards, but Cry Macho is interesting and peculiar enough to keep us watching. It’s almost an antithesis of the modern action movie, which often gets bogged down with cacophonous explosions and uninspired car chases that invite us to mentally check out. Cry Macho is slow, uncomplicated, and rarely thought-provoking, but the genius in its DNA prevents it from ever flopping, even if we rarely notice that the genius is there.