Cry Macho Clint Eastwood

Cry Macho proves that Clint Eastwood isn’t quite done

Eastwood directs and stars in this ambling hangout Western that’s about Clint Eastwood above all else.

Plans to adapt N. Richard Nash’s novel Cry Macho have apparently been kicking around since the mid-’70s. The film’s ambling plotting and sun-baked setting certainly place it in a wave of ’70s filmmaking where there are no heroes, no villains and no real point to anything. It’s easy to imagine the version of Cry Macho starring Warren Oates that never came into existence. It’s just as easy to imagine the Clint Eastwood movie it might have become when Eastwood eventually began circling the project a decade later. It took 30-odd years for Eastwood to get around to making the project. Now a nonagenarian actor/director who still averages a movie a year, Eastwood has turned Cry Macho not into the elegiac, end-of-a-legacy weepie that one would expect from a filmmaker whose every film could be his last but instead into a genteel hangout movie the likes of which are extremely few and far between these days.

Eastwood stars as Mike Milo, a former rodeo star forced into retirement by an injury. Milo is kept housed and employed by Howard Polk (Dwight Yoakam), a ranch owner and sketchy business guy who treats the wizened Milo as his personal errand boy. Polk needs a big favour from Milo — ever since his divorce, Polk has been unable to see his son Rafo (Eduardo Minett); he is now worried that the son might be in a less-than-optimal situation considering his ex’s lifestyle and underworld connections. Milo travels reluctantly to Mexico to find that Rafo isn’t nearly as much of a victim as his father might assume — the 13-year-old has dropped out of school and spends most of his time gambling on cockfights, having himself trained a rooster named Macho as his meal ticket. Milo’s presence in the crime-ridden small towns and Rafo’s position as a person of interest on both sides of the law means that the unlikely pair have their work cut out for them if they want to make it back to the States.

Though nominally a thriller in the sense that there are stakes and forces trying to stop them from achieving their goals, Cry Macho has a lot more Eastwood eating tamales and napping between horse-riding sessions than action scenes. Eastwood has stripped nearly all of the dramatic stakes in order to turn Cry Macho into the most laidback of his “Eastwood meets a kid” movies. Parts of Cry Macho resemble Gran Torino in its dynamics between a leathery old man and a hotheaded kid from a different culture, but even that film traded in more immediate stakes. There are car chases and at least one punch in Cry Macho, but what Cry Macho is really about is… Clint Eastwood.

Eastwood has been reflecting on his own persona for some time (one could argue his entire career as a director) but it has rarely seemed this obvious and calculated. There’s almost nothing about the character on the page that suggests he should be in his 90s; in fact, watching Milo (actually Eastwood’s stunt double) easily tame a bucking bronco seems like a hazy fantasy when you place it against the rest of the film, where a rail-thin Eastwood with billowy jeans cinched up to his armpits shakily handles papers. He throws a punch or two, but he also spends a significant part of the movie asking to take a nap. (As in The Mule, Eastwood has nevertheless opted to keep being an object of lust for women half his age — even if he ultimately doesn’t indulge in the sins of the flesh.) Eastwood seems positively unafraid of showing his age on screen, even if it means making a film that’s in absolutely no hurry to get anywhere.

Cry Macho is pretty far from being top-tier Eastwood in most respects. What little plot there is won’t exactly bowl anyone over, and Minett’s performance suffers negatively from being placed alongside Eastwood’s road-tested minimalism. As a mismatched-buddy comedy, it certainly could use a jolt in the arm. As the ambling, minimalist character study that Eastwood clearly whittled out of a pretty different concept, Cry Macho eventually won me over — less as a moving deconstruction of Western myths (which it does a little, but these myths are, at this point, almost single-handedly revolving around Eastwood himself) and more as a refreshingly unambitious star vehicle. Every Eastwood movie might be his last, but the idea that he rejects his own eulogy with this purposely unambitious effort is a refreshing one. ■

Cry Macho opens in Montreal theatres on Friday, Sept. 17.

Cry Macho stars Clint Eastwood, Eduardo Minett and Dwight Yoakam

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