Cry Macho, 2021.
Directed by Clint Eastwood.
Starring Clint Eastwood, Eduardo Minett, Natalia Traven, Dwight Yoakam, Fernanda Urrejola, Horacio García Rojas, Ana Rey, and Paul Alayo.
A one-time rodeo star and washed-up horse breeder takes a job to bring a man’s young son home and away from his alcoholic mom. On their journey, the horseman finds redemption through teaching the boy what it means to be a good man.
There is tender grace in Clint Eastwood’s stripped-down approach to adapting N. Richard Nash’s Cry Macho. Working alongside the author and collaborating with his The Mule screenwriter Nick Schenk, everyone involved realizes that the soul of the story comes from the developing bond between former washed up a rodeo star Mike Milo (a 91-year-old Clint Eastwood stepping forward in his late-career tracks of leading warmer and meditative roles that fascinatingly allow for some possible meta self-reflection of the legend’s personal life and filmography) and 13-year-old problem child Rafa (Eduardo Minett).
A short expository prologue in 1979 summarizes everything needed to know about Mike; he started boozing hard following the one-two punch of losing his wife and child in an automobile accident and shattering his back during a competition. He shows up to work late with no interest in getting anything done, prompting his boss Howard (Dwight Yoakam), to fire him. About one year later (following a visually fancy transition of newspaper clippings coming to life and showing the back injury, it’s also revealed that Howard has been providing financial support to Mike out of pity. It’s also time to repay the favor.
Howard left Mexico when his son Rafa was six years old and has never seen the boy since. He also has reliable information the teenager is being abused by his mom. As a result, Howard has decided it is time he reconnects with his estranged offspring, enlisting Mike to cross the border and convince the child to come to Texas living a happier and safer life on a sizable range with his dad. Technically, this is also kidnapping, which Mike does acknowledge, but it doesn’t take much persuasion to get him to say yes. It’s also clear that Howard doesn’t give an earnest damn about connecting with Rafa. Yet, Mike is willing to comply anyway, presumably based on their history that will crystallize over time.
The initial meeting with Leta (Fernanda Urrejola) raises some alarms given Clint Eastwood’s questionable characterization of women, especially considering she is presented as a wealthy alcoholic eager to sleep around with different men whilst throwing lavish parties on the regular (that tries to seduce Mike at one point, which is rather awkwardly hilarious to watch given Clint Eastwood’s age). Then again, neither parent comes across fully fleshed, so there is a balance, and Leta isn’t seen for much. Despite the gargantuan scale of the home, Rafa has opted to live a rebellious street life, consistently up to no good whether it be pounding away tequila or cockfighting with his rooster, the titular Macho. The living conditions are no healthy environment to nurture a child, subsequently pushing the boy down a dangerous lifestyle path, meaning Mike likely sees a chance to do some good and find some redemption from wasting away his recent years.
Considering Rafa lives in a broken home and almost just got arrested during a cockfighting raid by the police, it doesn’t take much convincing beyond mentioning horses, land, and a chance at having a loving father for the boy to decide on running away. The choice is even easier to make since he is often physically abused by the men who live there. One such right-hand man of the family is Aurelio (Horacio García Rojas), tasked with tailing and retrieving Rafo, even if it means eliminating Mike from the equation.
A good portion of Cry Macho‘s first act definitely feels contrived. The plot seems to make the unlikely pairing leave their car untended (whether it be dining out or setting up a campfire for the night), where bad things happen to make their journey extra challenging. The upside is that between Clint Eastwood’s crotchety and sardonic humor (Mike jokes about barbecuing the rooster) and Eduardo Minett’s longing for affection underneath a faux tough and distrusting exterior makes for winning chemistry, even if the latter is not necessarily great during some of the more demanding emotional beats (although, that one is easier to place the blame on Clint Eastwood’s insistence on one take for every scene, which presumably prevailed here as well).
Eventually, the bad luck leads them to a stay in a small town where they meet Marta (Natalia Traven), a hospitable diner owner serving as the sole guardian to her three grandchildren. As Mike continues to instill wholesome values into Rafa while deconstructing what it means to be macho, a soulful attraction develops between him and Marta that brings out the hopeless romantic in the iconic filmmaker. They deal with the ongoing search for Rafa, all while becoming a family in their own way, with Mike teaching the boy how to ride. It can be considered convenient how much Mike and Marta have in common, but there is no schmaltz or emotional manipulation here; it’s believable and handled with delicacy.
Again, Cry Macho is unabashedly wholesome (at least once Rafa realizes he can trust Mike) as these kind and compassionate humans navigate the meaning of family and what it means to be a man. The trajectory of the story is obvious, but the execution feels sincere and lived-in with strong performances. It’s a low-key work that is eminently pleasing to watch, especially when the character of Mike and Clint Eastwood begin to blur during some poignant passages reflecting on the past. However,
the story never forgets that its heart is in connection.