- Directed by: Clint Eastwood
- Western, Drama | PG-13 | 1 hr 44 min
- In Theaters and Streaming on HBO Max
The world has changed dramatically in the fifty-seven years since A Fistful of Dollars premiered, but at least one thing remains constant: Clint Eastwood starring as a lone cowboy in a Western. This time it’s in his 44th directorial effort, Cry Macho, and that deserves appreciation, caveats notwithstanding.
Eastwood plays Mike Milo, a former rodeo star and washed-up horse trainer who spends his waning days alone in late ‘70s-era Texas. When his old boss and quasi benefactor calls in a favor and asks Milo to retrieve his teenage son from Mexico, Milo sets off to steal the boy away from his well-connected and unpredictable mother to make good on his moral debt. On the way back, the two forge a bond (thanks in part to the boy’s cockfighting rooster, Macho), and Milo recaptures some of what the long, hard years stripped away.
Everyone has some relationship to Eastwood, even if it is limited to “that old guy my dad likes,” and that connection with the audience colors the entire film. “Iconic” is often overused, but using it as a descriptor for Eastwood should be part of the adjective’s definition. What works about the film owes itself to Eastwood’s clear eye for Westerns layered onto that iconography. Seeing Eastwood’s Milo pick his way across southern Texas, northern and central Mexico, and back again is mesmerizing at times, and the sequences are peppered with classic Western imagery: campfires out on the plains and dying light on the horizon; a flat-brim cowboy hat that shows its mileage as much as its wearer; long shadows down dusty main streets as the sun sets in the distance. These are the types of motifs that define one of the most successful genres in the history of film, and when Cry Macho leans into them, it is captivating, especially given it flows through a top-two legendary on-screen cowboy. Eastwood knows all this, and the film is as much about his own persona and place in American popular culture as it is about an old cowboy finding redemption.
On the other side of the coin, what doesn’t work can also be traced directly to Eastwood. While his age is admittedly part of the story, there are times it goes beyond characterization and becomes distracting and, frankly, bizarre. Not one, but two beautiful women all but throw themselves at Eastwood’s Milo, despite at least a three decade age difference. Love is love, but these women immediately falling for a nonagenarian, retired ranch hand stretches belief. Likewise, in a scene that is indicative of Eastwood’s physical presence throughout the film, Milo literally ‘gets back on the horse,’ but questionable editing does not do a great job hiding the stuntman’s work. Additionally, from a directorial standpoint, Eastwood is well known for his propensity to capture scenes in only one or two takes before moving on, believing instinct leads an actor to his or her best effort. While this might work well for actors like Hillary Swank, Paul Walter Hauser, and Bradley Cooper, it does not work as well for actors without that level of polish, and Eastwood did not put his cast (outside of himself) in a position to succeed.
At the end, to couch Cry Macho in terms of ‘good’ or ‘bad,’ ‘thumbs up’ or ‘thumbs down,’ is an exercise in futility. It is fascinating to watch Eastwood continue to produce, and whether it completely works or not, it certainly adds to his mythos.