Fifty years after directing his first feature (Play Misty for Me) and nearly thirty years after making his last western (Unforgiven), Clint Eastwood returns as former rodeo star Mike Milo in Cry Macho. No reviewer yet has made the case that Cry Macho is a great movie, but plenty have been moved to reflect on what Eastwood, who turned ninety-one in May, has meant to us over all these years.
Cry Macho is “an amiable shambles of a film,” writes Sean Burns for North Shore Movies, “in many ways as rickety as its star’s skeletal figure but likewise possessed of great warmth behind the thin-lipped sneer and those perpetually squinting eyes. Surprisingly sweet, this not-particularly-eventful picture is the very definition of a fans-only proposition, but I don’t know too many movie lovers who aren’t Clint Eastwood fans.”
Years after a severe back injury ended his career and a tragic accident took his wife and child, Mike has been rendered all but useless by pills and booze. The New Yorker’s Richard Brody observes that Mike “looks back at his career in the public eye as vain and frivolous, enjoyed at the price of needless risk and pointless injury; it has left him empty and stunted, wounded and debilitated, unable to cope with inevitable emotional pain and loss.”
Rancher Howard Polk (Dwight Yoakam), who took Mike on as a horse trainer way back when, has had enough. But Mike owes him one. Not long after firing him, Howard gives him a mission. Mike is to go down to Mexico and essentially kidnap Howard’s thirteen-year-old son, Rafo (Eduardo Minett), and bring him up to Texas. Down in Mexico, Howard’s ex-wife, Leta (Fernanda Urrejola), tells Mike that Rafo has run off, but Mike finds him at a cockfight. Mike, Rafo, and Rafo’s rooster, Macho, head north, tailed by Leta’s hired guns and the Mexican police.
After a few breakdowns and mishaps, the trio hides out in a small town for a while—long enough for Mike to flirt with a widow, Marta (Natalia Traven), who runs a modest restaurant. Cry Macho is “a road movie filled with circular detours away from its barely-there plot and back through its star-director’s filmography,” writes Adam Nayman at the Ringer. Eastwood seems “determined to take the scenic route down memory lane.” He also takes up a “big idea informing The Mule—and Gran Torino, and while we’re at it, Space Cowboys,Million Dollar Baby, and Unforgiven—and focuses on it to the exclusion of pretty much everything else: the bittersweet humility of recognizing that you’ve made it to the homestretch, and the knowledge that no matter what’s left in the tank, you’re about to run out of road.”
Eastwood’s “diction might be awkward, his back hunched, his frame unsteady—but he is perfect for the role because we want him to be,” suggests Vulture’s Bilge Ebiri. And “it’s not the character’s sordid history we see reflected in his teetering posture and strained creak of a voice; it’s pure time.” In his lovely review for Slant, Chuck Bowen writes that pain “has reduced Mike, and maybe Eastwood, to a specter of tattered grace, to a cinematic embodiment of the pain we wish to transcend. Eastwood doesn’t need to carry a gun or make a big speech to command the screen anymore, he just inhabits it, and this nothing-left-to-prove quality also manifests itself in his unhurried pastoral imagery, which revels in beauty and in the divine qualities of singular moments of contemplation and connection. The film achieves the nourishing simplicity of a fable, and its devotion to the quotidian elements of mythical small-town western life is nearly religious.”
At the A.V. Club, Ignatiy Vishnevetsky seems a tad less eager to indulge the filmmaker. “As with Eastwood’s other late works,” he writes, “one has to expect bum notes, a certain crankiness and creakiness, awkward pacing, and stereotypes in the minor roles. Some peculiarities of The Mule have carried over—namely Eastwood’s predilection for driving montages and his insistence on portraying his character as irresistible to assorted younger women. Whether or not a viewer finds these charming probably depends on how invested they are in interpreting Cry Macho as an Eastwood text.”
At the very least, notes A. O. Scott in the New York Times, the “button-pushing and liberal-baiting that flared in The Mule and Richard Jewell aren’t much in evidence here, and the canonical Eastwood persona—the avenger of innocence who dwells in legal and moral gray zones—is in a state of semiretirement. There is evil in the universe, but it might not be entirely his problem.”
To celebrate Eastwood’s fifty years of directing, Warner Bros. is planning to rerelease Dirty Harry,The Outlaw Josey Wales,Unforgiven,The Bridges of Madison County,Gran Torino, and American Sniper and stream twenty-three Eastwood films on HBO Max. Profiling Eastwood for the Los Angeles Times,Kenneth Turan asks him if he’s lined up his next project. “I don’t have anything percolating at the moment,” he says. “I didn’t have anything percolating before this one. If something comes along where the story itself, the telling of it, is fun, I’m open to it.”
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