Clint Eastwood’s character of Mike Milo in “Cry Macho” says that “I don’t know how to cure old.” As the director and star of this serenely quiet road trip production, Eastwood understands there’s no cure so the best thing to do is to lean into it.
The actor/director who once personified the word macho through his gritty action movies shows that it is also possible to be macho through strong, controlled emotions. The 91-year-old Eastwood banks heavily on telling his tale through a more mature approach.
Eastwood plays a one-time rodeo star and washed-up horse breeder who, in 1979, is asked by his former boss, Howard Polk (Dwight Yoakam), to travel to Mexico to bring back his son. The job is presented as a family reunion but Milo learns the deeper truth during his journey.
Finding the boy, Rafo (Eduardo Minett), proves to be relatively easy. Getting him back to the United States proves to be the big problem as Rafo’s mother is certifiably possessive. That makes the trip by Milo and Rafo from Mexico City to the Texas border a series of narrow escapes.
It is the trip where Eastwood shows the best way to tell a story where the central figure doesn’t move with the same speed that comes with youth but still has the same bravado. Eastwood plays Milo as a man who has been physically and emotionally damaged with the passing years. But, there is still a spark of hope in him that keeps him moving.
The journey by the pair is not a high-speed chase but a slow trek. Eastwood allows plenty of time for the pair – plus Rafo’s pet chicken – to enter into very real conversations about life.
Although Rafo is decades younger than Milo, he slowly reveals that in many ways he is as physically and emotionally broken. The generational gaps that loom between them are bridged by shared pain.
The script written by Nick Schenk and N. Richard Nash based on the 1975 novel by Nash is filled with moments where the conversations have multiple levels. It’s never clear when talks turn to being macho whether those are references to the fowl or the fellows.
The film can also be seen as Eastwood putting a mirror up to his own career. Milo talks about the absurdity of a rodeo rider putting their life on the line for the entertainment of others. Eastwood has never faced real physical danger as an actor but he has spent his life putting himself emotionally on the line for the entertainment of others. Both he and Milo have reached that point in their lives where they are questioning the wisdom of their choices.
Because so much of “Cry Macho” deals with the two travelers, there’s a tremendous amount of pressure on Minett to be on the same acting level as the seasoned Eastwood. There are moments when Minett’s performance becomes a little stiff but overall he makes a suitable acting partner for Eastwood.
The acting challenge for Minett wouldn’t have been so critical if the movie moved at a faster pace. Much of the slowness – that does occasionally brush painfully close to being dull – puts the onus on all the players to step up.
Moviemakers have fed the public such a steady diet of big action movies that there is a form of artistic numbness that has formed in regards to simple tales of the human condition. “Cry Macho” is a reminder that it is acceptable to slowly savor a well-made product and not always have to consume entertainment as if it were fast food.
When the man preparing the product is as talented as Eastwood, taking time is a very positive way to go.
If you have read Nash’s book, it will become obvious the main themes of the book remain the same but the tempo is slower and there are some major changes to the ending. The conclusion of the film is not entirely satisfying because of so many unanswered questions. But, not being spoon-fed a trite conclusion would have been worse.
“Cry Macho” is currently in theaters and also can be seen on the streaming service of HBO Max.
Cast: Clint Eastwood, Dwight Yoakam, Eduardo Minett, Natalia Traven.
Director: Clint Eastwood
Rated: PG-13 for language, thematic elements
Running time: 121 minutes.