Clint Eastwood is no longer someone who needs to prove anything to anyone. As an actor, he has a wide catalog of performances that showcase his rough, relaxed charisma. As a director, he has plenty of movies that embrace the naturalism of the world and the characters within. Taking those personas into consideration, it’s no surprise that the “Old Man Clint” subgenre has become quite a thing. Films like Gran Torino not only present Eastwood at his most grumpy, but they also ground themselves in a rugged reality. And now with Cry Macho, we have another prime example of an “Old Man Clint” movie.
The film follows Mike Milo (Eastwood), a former rodeo star and horse breeder. When we first see him in 1979, he arrives late to work for what seems to be the hundredth time. Because of this, his boss Howard (Dwight Yoakam) has no choice but to let him go. Nevertheless, Howard’s admiration for Mike during his former glory holds strong. So one year later, Howard requests Mike for a favor: find his son Rafo (Eduardo Minett) and bring him home. Eventually, Mike accepts the job and heads towards Mexico. After meeting with Rafo’s mother Leta (Fernanda Urrejola), he soon finds Rafo at a cockfighting match. But as it turns out, finding Rafo is where Mike’s real journey begins.
It’s here that Nick Schenk and N. Richard Nash’s screenplay embraces the tropes of a buddy movie. Part of the fun of a buddy movie comes from the contrasting personalities of its leads. Luckily, Cry Macho does not waste its time in providing that. You have a straight man in the form of Mike, and you have a wild card in the form of Rafo. Neither seems to be compatible at first and yet they manage to form a bond as time progresses. It certainly helps that Eastwood and Minett slide into their roles with minimal effort. This is especially true of the former, as Eastwood conveys an annoyance that permeates through every word he says.
But even with those tropes in place, the movie gets to become a nuanced character piece. Sure, there are some wild antics that involve Rafo’s fighting rooster Macho. On top of that, the writers include a remark that centers around giving that name to a rooster of all things. Nevertheless, the movie characterizes Rafo with various layers. In short, his past revolves around a mother who was not fit to take care of him. Because of that, he spent most of his childhood doing things of his own accord and not trusting anyone. It’s not until he meets a woman named Marta (Natalia Traven) during the trip home that he starts to trust someone.
So how exactly does Cry Macho succeed as an “Old Man Clint” movie? For one thing, Eastwood’s performance has all the weathering that a senior citizen would have. But more crucial than that is how it allows Mike to grow even with his old age. Early on, we find that his gruff personality comes from past tragedies such as losing his family due to a car accident. That said, his experience as a family man has instilled a warmth in him that never truly went away. As luck would have it, this warmth takes center stage once he meets Marta. As Mike and Marta are widows, they soon spark a relationship that brings out the best in both of them. In spite of the language barrier, the current Mike withers away in favor of the old Mike.
In all fairness, there’s a part of me that wishes the movie was less familiar. While Eastwood’s directing is largely solid, it’s not like his approach is anything new. He utilized basic camera setups and a muted color palette in films like The Mule and Richard Jewell to convey a naturalistic feel, and the same applies here. As a result, not a single image is striking and memorable even when the character interactions achieve the opposite. On top of that, his knack for shooting no more than one take for a given scene leads to less-than-optimal line deliveries. This does not do favors for someone as inexperienced as Minett, as several of his lines come off as rather flat.
That said, intense familiarity is Cry Macho‘s only real stumbling block. For the majority of its 104-minute runtime, it’s a cozy and nice movie that tells its simple tale with grace. It may not add as many interesting wrinkles to the “Old Man Clint” subgenre as the movies preceding it. In fact, it rehashes The Mule‘s odd focus on younger women taking a deep interest in someone who could be their grandfather. However, its heavy reliance on tropes does not prevent it from having a genuine soul. And if there’s anything that all studio-backed projects could benefit from, it’s that. – Mark Tan
Cry Macho is now playing in theaters and on HBO Max.