Clint Eastwood‘s first directorial feature (Play Misty for Me) hit screens way back in 1971, and half a century later he’s delivered his forty-first. It’s an incredible feat for any filmmaker, but it’s all the more so in that Eastwood also plays a lead role in the vast majority of them. It’s a rare case of a director knowing his star better than anyone else, and to that end it’s perhaps fitting that Cry Macho feels somewhat like a knowing goodbye to a character, an icon, and to the audience themselves.
Mike Milo (Eastwood) is an ex-rodeo star, ex-horse trainer, ex… a lot of things, and when we first meet him he’s being made an ex-employee by a man named Howard (Dwight Yoakam). A short while later, though, and Howard is back asking Mike for a favor — head down to Mexico, pick up Howard’s teenage son without upsetting the boy’s criminally minded mother, and bring him back to Texas. Simple enough, perhaps, but the pieces don’t quite come together meaning Mike and the kid are stuck south of the border a bit longer than anticipated. They bicker, they fight, they bond over a cock named Macho. We know how this goes.
Cry Macho moves at its own intentionally meandering pace — we feel each rickety step, each rotation of a truck wheel — and while beats arrive with outcomes we know by heart they’re actually avoided here. Physical violence rears its head but quickly dissipates, and along the way notes and nods from past Eastwood films remind of different paths taken in years and films past. Mike is old. Eastwood is older. And both men know their days of punching through any problem they face have long passed them by. The toughness on display here is of a different breed, more leathery and tenacious than big and pugilistic, but the themes can’t quite always find the footing they need.
Mike and the boy, Rafo (Eduardo Minett), carry the expected relationship journey, one we’ve seen variations of in Eastwood’s Gran Torino (2008) and A Perfect World (1993), but it remains almost entirely on the softer side. Mike’s eyes squint on occasion, but Eastwood’s trademarked grimace isn’t as openly on display. This isn’t an angry man — it’s a man repaying a debt, with nothing to lose, nothing better to do, and no one to do it with anyway. The tone hangs throughout meaning Mike and Rafo never truly feel in danger, and we never doubt that the pair will reach their destinations. Eastwood seems disinterested here in pairing Cry Macho‘s simmering warmth with anything resembling real darkness.
That’s not to suggest the film’s pursuing a more realistic bent in its narrative. Mike may not engage in action beats — aside from a short horse ride that, for fans of Eastwood’s westerns, carries more emotional weight than perhaps intended — and sure, he can barely walk, but that doesn’t mean the ladies aren’t throwing themselves at his feet. One older woman’s (Natalia Traven) affections feel in line with Mike’s journey, but a scene where Rafo’s much younger and outwardly alluring mother (Fernanda Urrejola) tries to seduce Mike’s bony ass feels far more unlikely.
Nick Schenk‘s and N. Richard Nash‘s screenplay (based on the latter’s novel) is unafraid of being sentimental — it’s unclear if it’s been softened over the years as Cry Macho was at various times a planned project for the likes of Roy Scheider, Arnold Schwarzenegger, and in the late 80s, Eastwood himself. That gentleness feels at odds at times with the numerous setups for violence that never comes, but it works well enough to create something more akin to a last car ride with your grandfather. You know your shared history even if he’s moved on. You know what he’s capable of and where he’s been, and you know what he’s hiding behind the glint that still shines in his eyes.
Plot becomes secondary to the mood of it all, and while both Mike and Rafo end up where you’re expecting it never feels as if you’ve been cheated out of something more. There simply isn’t more to Cry Macho, at least not on the screen, and there doesn’t need to be. It’s a film about a man getting another chance due as much to persistence as to his quality as a person, but more importantly, it’s about a man who’s taking that other chance. Mike and Rafo both make leaps, and while one is far closer to an ending than a beginning they both require a degree of faith that too many of us can’t claim. It’s ultimately a better goodbye than than a film, but that’s quibbling when the emotions swirl — emotions fueled less by the past 104-minutes than by the past sixty-five years — and you find yourself whispering a goodbye in return.
To be clear, as a lover of westerns, Dirty Harry movies, and people overcoming the odds, I’m hoping Eastwood sticks around for a while. But with no announced or rumored films on the horizon — his IMDB page usually has one or two upcoming titles listed, but as of now there are none — Cry Macho might just be his farewell as a filmmaker before he heads off to his favorite ranch or small Mexican cantina. It might be far from his best work, but if it’s his last, it’s an honest goodbye on his own terms. Well, honest aside from all the ladies wanting to bone a nonagenarian…