Synopsis – A one-time rodeo star and washed-up horse breeder takes a job to bring a man’s young son home and away from his alcoholic mom. On their journey, the horseman finds redemption through teaching the boy what it means to be a good man.
My Take – No argument can be made to the fact Clint Eastwood is a living Hollywood legend, who at the age of 91 is still acting and directing. An icon who over the past 60+ years has amassed an impressive and eclectic body of acting and directorial work.
Though his record has proven more uneven over the last decade, with successes in J. Edgar (2011), American Sniper (2014), Sully (2016) and The Mule (2018) and not so successful efforts like Jersey Boys (2014), The 15:17 to Paris (2018) and Richard Jewell (2019), Clint Eastwood continues to remain in demand. Mainly as his non-fussy approach to storytelling often gives his films a unique energy of their own, a style born out of confidence and decades of standing in front of or behind a camera.
For his latest feature, his 41st directorial, Eastwood returns back to the genre in which he’s made a considerable impact – Westerns. Some of his finest works, including the Sergio Leone-directed Dollars Trilogy and Academy Awards Best Picture winner Unforgiven (1992), have been Westerns, making this an exciting proposition to see the Hollywood legend back in the saddle.
But while Eastwood’s star continues to shine as a director and actor, this one is probably going to go down as one of his weakest efforts. Surprising, considering the film is adapted from a well sought out novel of the same name by N. Richard Nash (who also co-wrote the screenplay) and is co-written by Nick Schenk, who penned The Mule and won the National Board of Review award for best original screenplay for Gran Torino (2008).
Though there is a certain charm here that will provoke a warm, nostalgic response from Eastwood fans who still want to see his effortless charisma and trademark squint one more time, this overly comfy and melancholic drama plows little new ground moving from scene to scene aimlessly landing on the lower end of the spectrum of the legend’s considerable output.
Set in 1979, the story follows Mike Milo (Clint Eastwood), a former Texas rodeo star sidelined by age and a tragedy. Though fired from his job, his former employer Howard Polk (Dwight Yoakam) tasks Mike with traveling down to Mexico to bring back his long-lost 13 year old son, Rafael (Eduardo Minett), to Texas, citing concerns the boy’s mother, Leta (Fernanda Urrejola), is constantly abusing him. A chore he can’t carry out himself because of acrimony with his ex-wife and vague legal complications.
While Mike hesitantly agrees and heads to south of border to find Rafael, it’s the road trip back, accompanied by a battling rooster named Macho, which begins to hit the roadblocks especially the ones set up by police and Leta’s hired muscle, forcing the duo into hiding in a small town, providing an opportunity for them to bond and Mike to ponder.
The type of character Clint Eastwood plays here will be familiar to his fans, a rugged cowboy with a heart of gold who goes it alone and lives by his own code, and while Eastwood as a director works to his strengths both in front of and behind the camera, although this comfy, melancholy drama lacks the spark of some of his best works. A shame considering the script has no structure to build on. Agreed, this isn’t a story driven film, as much as it latches onto the framework of the road trip genre to find momentum, and more of character study of a man forced to reassess the way he has lived his life.
The film is apparently supposed to be a meditation on masculinity, with Eastwood’s one-time rodeo star Mike Milo taming and rebuilding his young rebellious charge into an honorable young man. Eastwood’s Milo is a mellower more introspective, and perhaps wiser version of Eastwood’s laconic tough guy stereotype.
Sure, Eastwood’s character throws a few punches, romances a lady, and is on the run in his attempt to rescue a teen and the fighting chicken, but he does take a more leisurely pace. The whole feature is very stagnant and has very little excitement.
There is so little activity, the most exciting scenes consist of the rooster named Macho attacking people out of nowhere, and watching Eastwood throwing one of his trademark quips. While the film is beautifully shot, it ends up being an incredibly monotonous buddy road trip film with much less to say on anything of substantive value.
The film has compelling ideas at its core, but is marred by a screenplay that feels directionless and the most laughably inept henchman in the history of film.
Eastwood is stately, but the film feels unambitious, lacking in the drama that would have made its messages on masculinity more potent. As an actor, Eastwood‘s charm and grit is still intact but here it’s in service of a flop story full of unearned emotions. This requires him to navigate treacherous situations and evade the Mexican police, and it requires audiences to suspend disbelief while this old-timer, makes it all look so damn easy.
In supporting turns, Dwight Yoakam and Natalia Traven are solid, however, Eduardo Minett just hams throughout. Here, Minett is so over-the-top that for a few minutes that the film almost feels like a parody. The same goes for Fernanda Urrejola and Horacio Garcia Rojas who overact and seem to have an understanding of a different film. On the whole, ‘Cry Macho’ is an aimless Western hampered by a thin story, clumsy and predictable film making.
Directed – Clint Eastwood
Rated – PG13
Run Time – 104 minutes