Directed by: Potsy Ponciroli

Cast: Tim Blake Nelson, Scott Haze, Gavin Lewis

There are few icons in cinema history as prolific as Clint Eastwood. Following a career that spans over six decades, including over 30 feature films sitting in the director’s seat, his latest, Cry Macho, may not only be towards the bottom of that list and proof that he’s definitely past his peak, but also evidential of the inescapable magic that comes with anything he touches.

An aging horse breeder, Mike Milo (Eastwood), tasked by his former boss (Dwight Yoakam), heads to Mexico to essentially kidnap the man’s 13-year-old son from his abusive mother and bring him back to his father in Texas. Mike never questions his quest or his friend’s motives, but what’s even stranger is that the audience isn’t expected to question them either.

Once he arrives south of the border, he quickly finds Rafo (Eduardo Minett), a snappy-mouthed kid who drinks tequila and makes money entering his rooster, Macho, into cock fights. While Rafo’s shotcaller mother (Fernanda Urrejola) is violently opposed to her son leaving, the boy stows away in the backseat of Mike’s car and together they head back to the States.

Eastwood tries tapping into the same dynamics with his young costar as he did in 2008’s Gran Torino, where he played a porch barker who befriends a young Asian boy. His character in Cry Macho is much softer and agreeable. At the heart of both films are themes of manliness and what it means to be tough, and how hubris isn’t what defines your masculinity. And 13 years after perhaps his most unlikely tour de force, the 91-year-old film legend may now be the very epitome of a real man as he plays a character who’s frail from a life of macho posturing, finally able to understand the meaninglessness in all the strutting around.

At the heart of both films are themes of manliness and what it means to be tough, and how hubris isn’t what defines your masculinity.

The director teams up once again with Gran Torino screenwriter Nick Schenk, who revised a script written nearly 50 years ago by N. Richard Nash, which he then turned into the 1975 novel. Cry Macho moves with the same ease of dialogue that Schenk is known for, but this time around characters prattle aimlessly throughout a plot that doesn’t feel complete. The themes are almost too faint to see, lightly tapping the ground as they land every so often, finally summed up at the end with a line or two of insightful verbiage.

Most of this story is just observational, driven by sweetness and a belief that humans are inherently good. Although, unlike most slice-of-life narratives, Cry Macho actually has an immediate objective. Evading its actual premise, the film trots along with an ostensible hook about how a crass old man comes out of his shell to befriend a troubled young boy. Except, the boy isn’t all that troubled and the man isn’t all that curmudgeonly. To make matters worse, the two of them bond rather quickly because of their overall purity of heart, and so, the apparent conflict gets erased almost as soon as it’s introduced.

This only detracts from the real point, which isn’t that Mike is a crotchety old fart, but that he’s trying to find meaning in the sunset of his life. The former rodeo star injured his back some time ago and subsequently lost both his wife and his child in a car accident. And as his own American dream came and went, he’s now discovering his piece of paradise and purpose in Mexico.

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.

About the Author: Ethan Brehm

Ethan Brehm

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