Now showing; Cert 12A
How many final furlongs we will get with Clint Eastwood is anyone’s guess. At 91 years of age, the US screen icon still insists on heading out the door every year or two to occupy himself in a notorious, labour-intensive profession that is capable of breaking the spirit of people half his age – filmmaking.
Those times when he is at work on both sides of the camera (Gran Torino, The Mule), something that requires much mental agility, you’d assume, the feat is that bit more remarkable. To put this in perspective, Unforgiven, the Oscar-winner Eastwood both directed and starred in, was a project he purposely waited to film until he was an older man so that he could fully inhabit its grizzled protagonist. It was released nearly 30 years ago.
Cry Macho is very on-brand for Eastwood. In it, he plays a former rodeo star dispatched across the Mexican border to find and bring home his boss’s teenage son. The character is the type of solid and stoic Texan loner he originally built his name with, all those decades ago, and the mission one that pits him and his attitude towards the world against the Badlands.
The key difference in the case of Cry Macho is that the character can’t completely rely on his physical prowess to get him out of bother. Instead, he has plenty of old-school know-how to help him negotiate the world. A by-product of this – and something that can be seen in many latter-day Eastwood films – is a low-level sermonising about conservative American values.
It does, however, portray a version of frontier masculinity where a visibly frail star is seen flooring younger, fitter bad guys with a single punch and beating off the advances of women old enough to be his granddaughter. Without wishing to sound ageist, it makes for awkward and slightly bemusing viewing in places.
More successful is the gentle, dusty momentum that sets out its stall against desert backdrops south of the border, open highways, and two chalk and cheese characters coming to an arrangement.
Eastwood is Mike Milo, a widowed cowboy who is recently sacked by shrewd stable boss Howard (country and western star Dwight Yoakam) only to be coerced into running a cross-border errand for his former employer. Mike is to drive south, find 13-year-old Rafo (an ineffective Eduardo Minett), and bring the lad back to Texas to live with his estranged father.
After breaking into her lavish hacienda, Mike discovers from the boy’s mother (Fernanda Urrejola) that Rafo is a tearaway, and to be found most nights cockfighting down the back alleys of Mexico City.
With little fuss, Mike tracks down the boy and manages to convince him to travel back to the US with him. With a fighting cock under his arm, Rafo and Mike set off, but they have company. It turns out the boy is at the centre of an investment dispute and the two travel companions will need to try and stay below the radar.
What neither anticipates are the opportunities they happen upon en route for a happier life, particularly while laying low in a small Mexican village.
There, they are hosted by Natalia Traven’s cantina owner who takes a shine to Mike. Mike, meanwhile, finds some casual work doing what he does best – breaking horses at a small stable yard. Naturally for all stories of this nature, two people at very different ends of the life spectrum learn to communicate and learn from each other.
The pace is undeniably shuffling, the plot uncomplicated and episodic, and at times, things occur that are just a bit too creaky and implausible to take that seriously. There is nothing here that you would call challenging in the screenplay by Nick Schenk and source-novel author N Richard Nash, nothing that could be chewed over during a post-cinema dinner, no great tension and resolution earned during the course of its 100-odd minutes.
You look at Eastwood in his tenth decade of life and you worry for the toll the work might be taking on him.
At the same time, the sight of Eastwood in a Stetson whispering to horses, and the hint of a new beginning for Mike when the departure lounge traditionally beckons, are persuasive and even charming elements that sidle up to you just when you’re starting to think Cry Macho is not at the races.
Also on release
Tick, Tick… Boom!
In selected cinemas and on Netflix; Cert 12A
Composer and playwright Jonathan Larson burned bright and fast in the world of New York musical theatre. He was just 35 when he died suddenly in 1996 on the same day he was previewing Rent, a global Broadway sensation that would garner posthumous Tony and Pulitzer gongs.
Prior to Rent, Larson was building a name with socially conscious, autobiographical works such as Tick, Tick… Boom!, which charted his artistic struggles and a crisis of confidence on the eve of his 30th birthday. With great affection, fellow Broadway overachiever and Larson disciple Lin-Manuel Miranda directs this adaptation by Steven Levenson that might nudge Andrew Garfield (wired and wonderful here) into Oscar contention.
Garfield is all-singing and all-dancing, but displays the delicate stuff when things calm down.
Musicals aren’t everyone’s cup of tea. Best to focus on Miranda’s dynamic shooting, Garfield’s pizzazz, and a very 1990s New York boho fable about ambition, love, and the AIDS epidemic that swept the city’s arts scene. Hilary White
In cinemas from Friday; Cert 12A
At one point in Reinaldo Marcus Green’s enjoyable film, a sports agent doubts Richard Williams’ assertion that he has two tennis champions in his family. It would, says the agent, be like having two Mozarts in the family.
But Richard was right. In his daughters, Venus and Serena, he did have two tennis Mozarts and this movie, written by Zach Baylin, is the origins story of those sporting superheroes.
Richard Williams (Will Smith) is a controversial figure and the film focuses on his plan to create elite athletes. Richard and his wife Brandy (Aunjanue Ellis) had five daughters in Compton, Los Angeles. They pushed the girls hard in every way and Venus (Saniyya Sidney) and Serena (Demi Singleton) showed particular promise at tennis.
Even when Richard persuaded top tennis coaches to work with his daughters, he retained control of their trajectory, often going against conventional wisdom to follow his own plan. This authorised version of the sisters’ story does gloss over some of Richard’s unorthodox methods. However, it is still a remarkable tale, the cast are great, and the 146-minute run time flies by. Áine O’Connor
The Colour Room
On Sky Cinema and NOW; Cert PG
History is not just about the big moments. There are so many smaller events and lesser-known people, especially women, who shape the world in which we live. Claire McCarthy’s film is about one such woman, renowned ceramicist Clarice Cliff.
In the early 1920s, Cliff (Phoebe Dynevor) is a rule-breaking and inspired young woman who works in the pottery factories of Staffordshire. The accepted route for women within that world was that they would apprentice as a paintress and remain forever-after a paintress.
Cliff, though, changed jobs often, with a view to learning as many skills as possible and advancing to what were considered male fields, like clay modelling. With the support of her boss, Colley Shorter (Matthew Goode), she went on to boundary-breaking success.
Claire Peate’s screenplay is a dramatised version of the early years of Cliff’s career. It ramps up the emotion, stressing in particular the gender element of the story. The goodies are very good, the baddies are one-dimensional. This is necessary in what is a good but slight story. Dynevor is a lovely, engaging lead in a film that is interesting and sweet. Áine O’Connor