Throughout his historic seven-decade acting career, Clint Eastwood has cut a towering figure on the big screen as an iconic example of traditional masculinity. In his latest film Cry Macho – his 45th as a director – the 91-year-old movie star takes a step back to examine his legacy, wondering whether living life in macho fashion is actually a good thing at all.
The film resembles his terrific 2008 blockbuster Gran Torino, in which Eastwood directed and starred as a grizzled old man who reluctantly takes a bullied Asian immigrant boy under his wing and winds up risking his own life in a battle against the street gang that’s troubling the youth. Here, Clint plays Mike Milo, a cowboy who had to end his career as a bronco-busting rodeo rider when he was thrown off a horse and broke his back a couple decades ago.
Mike has spent his golden years working for a shady rancher named Howard (Dwight Yoakam), who saved him from destitution after his career-ending injury fueled a destructive alcohol habit. Howard gave Mike a job and a home, and now he’s calling in a favor: for Mike to travel to Mexico and retrieve his estranged 13-year-old son Rafo (Eduardo Minett) from his estranged wife, asking Mike to even kidnap the kid if that’s what’s required.
Howard claims that Rafo is being subjected to abuse, so Milo gruffly agrees to go on the mission. But when he gets ahold of Rafo and they start hotfooting it back to the border, the pair find themselves followed by dangerous associates of the mother and they wind up hiding out in a far-flung desert outpost for a couple of weeks when their car breaks down.
There, Milo lets down his guard and slowly starts to fall for a single (grand)mother, and starts reconsidering how he wants to spend the rest of his days. The budding romance finds Eastwood smiling broadly and frequently for what seems to be the first time in his career because the effect is so stunning.
Thus, we’re getting to see a kinder, gentler Clint Eastwood, which is a bit odd to see at first but by the second half becomes a quite charming experience. Combined with a build that’s more wiry than ever, Eastwood is starting to fully look his advanced age even as he remarkably took on the triple-threat job of being the star, director and the film’s lead producer.
Can you think of anyone else who could handle all that at 91?
While Mike is taking Rafo along Mexico’s dusty backroads, dodging both the bad guys trying to recapture Rafo and crooked cops alike, he tries to impart his hard-won life wisdom in the youth. Rafo is brashly cocky at first before eventually being tamed in much the same way that Mike once tamed wild horses.
One of the most interesting scenes in the film takes place at a desert shrine to the Virgin Mary, where Mike insists on them staying the night while on the run. Rafo is adamantly opposed to the idea, his tough exterior tamped down by his fearful devotion to Our Lady, insisting that they can’t sleep in a holy space.
Mike scoffs at first, leading to the two having an exchange about their belief in God, which in Mike’s case is skepticism. But the script by Nick Schenk (who also wrote Gran Torino) is respectful of Rafo’s impassioned arguments, and Mike eventually is seen joining in prayer when the two find shelter at the single mother’s home.
Cry Macho isn’t the swaggering film that one might expect from its title and star. It’s often quiet and contemplative, and its finale hinges on Rafo’s cockfighting rooster named Macho saving the day. The fact that a chicken is the film’s most direct correlation to all things macho is a witty subversion that Eastwood clearly intended in what might be his swan song.
Ultimately, it’s not as fun as Gran Torino or many of Eastwood’s biggest hits. So it’s probably not surprising that Cry Macho has suffered for it at the box office. However, it’s also available to HBO Max subscribers, and its quiet charms will play just fine on the small screen, where Clint’s aging fan base can lean back in their recliners while they watch their hero ride off into the sunset.
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