Cry Macho is no masterpiece, but it is a watchable, pleasant albeit predictable
modern western drama. It is not particularly groundbreaking, but watching it is
as comfortable and pleasing as putting on an old shoe.
Just putting Clint Eastwood behind and in front of the camera wins half the
battle. He is known for his lean, straightforward no beating around the bush
directing style which recalls the works of great Hollywood genre directors like
John Ford, John Houston, and Howard Hawks. This is either the 39th or 40th film
the 91-year-old Eastwood directed depending on what source you go by.
Some of the best films he directed include Play Misty for Me (1971), The Outlaw
Josey Wales (1976), Space Cowboys (2000), Mystic River (2003) and Million Dollar
Baby (2004), and
Flags of our Fathers
(2005). This film is nowhere near as powerful as these peak works.
He also changed the course of film history by starring in some classic spaghetti
westerns known as the man with no name trilogy: A Fistful of Dollars (1964), and
a For Few Dollars More (1965) The Good the Bad and The Ugly (1966) that were all
directed by Sergio Leone. Incredibly when Leone directed Eastwood in those
films, he knew no English.
Here Eastwood plays Mike Milo, a crusty, hard drinking cowboy/rodeo rider (an
only slight variation on most of his recent roles) who has finally reached the
end of his rope. After his wife died, he went into a spiral fueled by alcoholism
and apathy towards life.
After Mike loses his regular job, his ex-boss, Howard Polk (unsympathetically
played by the fine country singer, Dwight Yoakum) gives him a job without
providing all the background details which turn out to be somewhat sordid.
The film’ follows the same basic plot trajectory as the more complex,
with an ordinary American man who goes to foreign land on an important mission
without fully knowing all the rules of the place he is visiting. Also, both men
run into a compassionate women (played here by Natalia Traven) that tempts them
to settle down. In this case the potential love interest is a widow who rents
out a room to him.
Mike is asked to travel to Mexico to scoop up Howard’s estranged preteen son,
Rafo (Eduardo Minnett who is good playing a wise beyond years kid) to bring him
to the USA to live with his dad.
Mike first meets the boy’s mom, Leta (Fernanda Urrejola), the resident drunken
femme fatale who is a thoroughly despicable person. She almost immediately tries
to seduce Mike who is probably over 50 years older than her presumably in order
to use him.
Even worse it is strongly implied that she even has sold her own son to older
men for sexual gratification. This makes him so distrustful of adults that
initially he thinks that Mike is a pedophile. This clouds the otherwise family
friendly nature of the film, but it is likely that kids won’t even understand
this plot thread.
Rafo has had a rough past and it is clear without good adult guidance he could
easily end up as a career criminal. The boy owns a violent rooster named Macho
who is a cock fighting champion. When Mike calls the rooster a chicken, Rafo
seems to take it personally and assertively announces: "'He’s no chicken, he is
macho” The rooster actually becomes a major character and travels with the pair
and at times exhibits a fair amount of intelligence (he is no dumb cluck.)
Eventually the two bond and Mike becomes almost a grandfather figure to the
child. The boy is worried that the Virgin Mary looking down will look upon them
in disfavor for resting in her chapel dedicated to her. At one-point in the
scene the religious Rafo and more agnostic Mike even have an interesting
theological discussion about God. In what could be seen as a corrective or a
partial rebuke to Eastwood’s whole career and image. His character lectures Rafo
about the limitations of the macho mindset. He says “I’ll tell you something,
this macho thing is overrated. People trying to be macho to show that they’ve
got grit, that’s about all they end up with. Like anything else in life, you
think you’ve got all the answers, and you realize you get older you don’t have
any of them.”
The last third of the film holds few surprises, but the plot unwinds in a
pleasing way, and I think many people will enjoy the almost completely
satisfying quasi-happy ending.
Oh, and the 91-year-old Eastwood gets to tame wild horses and even punch a much
younger man. I don’t know of anyone else his age who could believably do that
(well maybe William Shatner). I think this film could end up being seen as a
classic in retirement homes.
Cry Macho is not one of Eastwood’s best or most stylish works, but it is a
mostly enjoyable and optimistic cinematic diversion that should especially
appeal to fans of old-fashioned melodramas and westerns. As the old Greg Khin
song said, “they don’t write them like that anymore.”