Cry Macho is a ghost of what used to make Eastwood films so great...
CRY MACHO (2021)
In the past decade, director Clint Eastwood’s track record has been spotty in terms of putting out solid films. Therefore I had a little trepidation going into his recent release Cry Macho. But I kept my mind open. I didn’t watch any trailers or read any early reviews before screening it. Films like Cry Macho often fall into the trap of being considered either Oscar-bait or stepping stone films for promising actors. Ironically, this film doesn’t meet either of that criteria.
Looking through Mr. Eastwood’s body of work as a director, his films fall out all over the place in the spectrum of enjoyable cinema. As I said, Cry Macho was a wild card to me. The direction was not necessarily aimless but it didn’t inspire either. It was a very paint-by-numbers production. This isn’t so much a critique on Eastwood’s abilities as a storyteller as it is on the material he was given to work with. The script for Cry Macho has been in development hell for decades, exchanging hands between many big names before finally finding a landing. It is a dated script and it shows. This leaves the task for Eastwood to build a cathedral with untreated plywood. It’ll hold up, but you won’t want to come back to it again.
Retired and weary rodeo worker Mike Milo (Eastwood) is a Texas cowboy, way past his prime. His boss Howard Polk (Dwight Yoakam) puts him out to pasture, only to call on Mike’s services a year later to go retrieve Polk’s son from the boy’s mother down in Mexico. The boy, Rafael (Eduardo Minett) suffers abuse at home and takes to the streets for a living, engaging in cock fights. His mother Leta (Fernanda Urrejola) is a controlling alcoholic and doesn’t want her son going with Mike back to the States.
Having been turned away, Mike heads back to the US but finds Rafael hiding in his back seat, with Rafael’s prized chicken, Macho, in tow as well. Mike begrudgingly keeps the boy on board. Firstly, because Rafael wants to be a cowboy and his mostly absentee father has the means to make those dreams come to fruition. The second reason that motivates Mike is his debt owed to Howard. We get allusions to Mike’s past where he lost his family, crawled into a bottle but found a rescuer to keep him going. Howard was that rescuer. As the duo make their way back to the US border, they actively avoid the Federales, as well as Leta’s henchmen assigned to take the boy back to his mother. Mike and Rafael run into a few light hijinks, before car trouble temporarily anchors them to a tiny village. It is here that Mike finds some peace and Rafael learns about horses, girls and life. This story isn’t wholly original and plays it safe, it is comforting and warm.
ACTING | CHARACTERS | DIALOGUE:
I suppose it might be unfair to expect a 91-year-old actor to be as sharp as he was in his forties and fifties. Eastwood’s performance comes off as a struggle and borders on cringey. Save for a few tender moments, I feel this material was a little too much for him to handle. I believe an actor 30 years his junior could’ve pulled off this role a lot more efficiently without missing any of the nuance that the character is supposed to embody. Young Eduardo Minett is a victim of circumstance here. I have no doubt he has serious acting chops that he will grow into, but they don’t bear fruit here. Between the combination of his freshness in English-speaking roles, the bland direction and the dated script makes his rendition of a confused and abused minor come off as hokey. The background characters all carry appropriate amounts of filler dialogue that serve to push our two heroes through the story. Yoakham’s brief performance as the seedy father in only a few scenes is actually the strongest and most convincing one in the film.
VISUAL EFFECTS | MAKEUP | DESIGN:
I don’t have much to report on with visual effects or makeup design. Young characters look young, and old characters look remarkably older than they need to be given the dire straits they find themselves in. There are minor stunts here and there with horse riding that are fun. It is entertaining how bold the attempt is to make Eastwood look like he can still cowboy his way through a film. There’s a particular scene of him breaking in a horse that was more cheesy than exhilarating.
MUSIC | SCORE | SOUND DESIGN:
I will say that a strong constant in nearly all of Eastwood’s body of work is the music within. The score composed by Mark Mancina is haunting and evenly paced. This music embodies what a neo-Western film should sound like. This soundtrack deftly carries this film and in itself a stronger character than the ones written for the screen. Mancina’s work here elevates a film that desperately needed a lifeline.
I really wanted to enjoy Cry Macho. It has many key ingredients and personnel to become something engrossing and deep. Unfortunately, I was left with a feeling of dissatisfaction. There is a heart and a pulse buried deep in the story, it just never materialized like it should have during the film. It is visually striking and wonderfully scored, and it should be revered for those high qualities. But Cry Macho is a ghost of what used to make Eastwood films so great. It is an allegory of the career of the man who made it. I’m grateful for the incredible work he has given the world over the past six decades, but it’s now time to hang up the stirrups.