Cry Macho and all the images you see in this review are owned by Warner Bros Pictures
Directed by Clint Eastwood
It seems that another Marvel movie hitting theaters to an already dwindling audience of movie-goers has left a bit of a lull in the release schedule which has mostly been filled with mid-tier filler and straight to streaming releases. Thankfully October looks to be pretty well stacked with big ticket releases, but until then I’ll appreciate the slower pace which gives me more time to craft my reviews; which is just another way of saying it doesn’t matter as much how late I am in getting these up. ANYWAY! Clint Eastwood’s latest film is another attempt by Warner Bros to draw people to their streaming service with same day theater and streaming release which admittedly have been a mixed bag. Some of it’s been good with Suicide Squad and Malignant, but I still remember when they tried to pass The Little Things as a selling point. Is this another step towards Warner Bros staking a sizable claim in the streaming market, or does Clint’s latest feature fail to escape the shadow of his more well-known movies? Let’s find out!!
Mike Milo (Clint Eastwood) spent his life in the rodeo riding bulls and winning awards all over the country. That’s not the movie we’re here to see though as that’s far back in the past, as is his family drama his alcoholism, and his post-career as a horse trainer (wrangler?) that was unceremoniously cut short by his boss and best friend Howard (Dwight Yoakam). Seems like a jerk move from Howard, but when he comes to him a year later with a big favor to ask… well Mike’s not the kind of guy to refuse to help a supposed friend; even if they did stab them in the back. It turns out that Howard has a son in Mexico named Rafael (Eduardo Minett) who’s been having a rough time with his mother and Howard thinks it’s in the kid’s best interests to drag him up here to live with him instead. Pretty sure that’s a kidnapping which Mike points out, but hey, what’s a felony between friends? Mike makes his way to Mexico and after meeting Rafael’s bizarre cartel-adjacent mother (Fernanda Urrejola) he manages to locate the kid and starts his journey back to the US border. It’s not quite as easy as it seems however as the roads can be treacherous to old cars like the one that Mike has, and Rafael’s mother didn’t seem to like Mike all that much and is sending some dudes with nothing better to do to try and find an octogenarian white guy with young kid carrying a rooster. The rooster’s name is Macho by the way, though I’m not sure if he actually cries in the movie. Does Mike manage to get Rafael to his father in one piece, and does he learn something about himself along the way? Why is Howard trying to get Rafael now, and is it really the best for either of them to go back to America? Was anyone else secretly hoping for a wacky road trip movie with Clint Eastwood pulling all sorts of shenanigans?
This is an interesting one because I think I like the IDEA of this movie more than actually watching the movie itself. It’s boring, the acting is pretty consistently underwhelming, and the budget looks like that of a Hallmark movie, but there’s something about this movie that left me feeling more positive than I expected considering how often I was completely checked out of it. Perhaps it’s the fact that this movie exists at all and that Clint for all his (MANY) flaws is still out there and still capable of making movies like this that reflect inward on himself, his legacy, and the struggles we all will have to go through when the time comes. There’s something compelling about the idea of one last adventure; that life doesn’t have a definite ceiling where you can no longer do something that matters. It’s ground that Clint’s covered before with Unforgiven as his sendoff to the Western genre and Gran Torino which is much more explicitly about aging, and the fact that he did it ONCE AGAIN with this movie after saying “goodbye” at least twice, well I guess I just like the idea that it’s not over until he says it’s over.
I will say that the movie does not get off to a good start as its flaws are most glaring when it’s trying to be more than just meditative. The whole setup of the movie itself is pretty ridiculous on its face given what we know at the time and ESPECIALLY with what we ultimately find out about Clint’s “mission” in this movie. Apparently this is based on a novel form the seventies, so it’s unclear how much of the ludicrous plot is from that or are attempts to update the material, but whoever to point the finger at it’s probably for the best that the movie barely wants to dwell on it. Still, it feels like a plot on sufferance and they probably should have given it a second pass before going into production; especially when we GET to Mexico and it’s full of cartoonish cartel characters; especially Rafael’s mother who’s straight out of a really bad comic book. I genuinely do not understand what her deal is and I’m fairly certain that the writers didn’t either as she’s just there to serve as an antagonist to be floating in the background to at least give the story a TINY bit of urgency. Frankly they shouldn’t have even bothered if the material was this goofy. That’s not even getting into the more pernicious idea of a white dude coming to Mexico to “save” a kid from his crappy parent and crappy country and the fact that they couldn’t even be bothered to find a better way to handle that tells you something. It’s not until Clint meets Rafael that things start to unfold in an interesting way and it stops feeling like it’ll be a Rambo: Last Blood style white dude vs Mexico kind of story, and I guess just HAVING goofy bad guys pop up every once in a while for very mild and short action scenes at least breaks up the long stretches of monotony throughout the movie.
Where the movie starts to find itself is in the long stretches of time that Clint and Rafael have to put up with each other and if I were to guess it’s where the movie takes the most from the novel. They bicker, fight, share moments, and argue over misunderstandings in ways you’d expect from a road trip movie like this, and Clint does a good job of keeping up his side of the conversation. Rafael not so much as the acting is pretty clunky and the lines he’s forced to give are blunt to the point of parody; literally telling us where he is in his character arc and just short of shouting “THE ‘ALL IS LOST’ MOMENT” when things break down at the end of the second act. Sadly it means that his side of this COMING OF AGE movie feels a bit lacking which is a pretty serious problem considering he should be the focus of the movie, but the film does a pretty great job of contrasting his with Clint’s COMING OF AGE story; kid is growing up while Clint is growing old. For me though, the great moments punctuate the movie rather than drive it as I can point to scenes I REALLY liked such as Clint and Rafael’s first night in the church and whenever they have to work together to talk their way out of a situation (Clint lends gravitas while Rafael understands the cultural nuances) but most of the movie is made of extended sequences of them just kinda puttering around shops, restaurants, and ranches when they aren’t sitting in a car.
Still, I’ll give the movie some credit for NOT trying too hard to pump up the drama or inject conflict where it isn’t needed. The movie just stops in its tracks COMPLETELY to spend half an hour in a small village for reasons that at best are contrived and at worst are non-existent and the pacing is at a standstill. Sure there are moments here that are boring, but there’s a comfort to this part of the movie that’s hard to put into words. A sort of peace that permeates as Clint’s character finds a place in this community and starts to open up more now that he’s not on edge or particularly focused on his mission. We learn a lot about him here but not in a way that feels like exposition or is there to serve the plot itself. Whatever struggles he had he’s either worked through already or they’ve settled quite comfortably upon his shoulders and this isn’t the time or place for him to change all that as it’s more akin to a fresh start. It’s almost the inverse of Old where the stress was in the idea of TIME LOST. Here, it’s time discovered; time to do more. The man’s life was set to peter out in the last few pages, but now we’ve got a bonus chapter as he finds something new in his life worth enjoying and worth striving for; certainly more so than his dubious mission to take a kid back to his jerk of a father! Then again, the idea that this IS just a tacked on part at the end someone’s story means that we only get a glimpse of Dwight Yoakam’s character and Clint makes it clear that there were better times in the past that makes what’s going on here make sense. This idea is particularly well encapsulated in a scene where we learn that Clint knows how to sign and that it’s not given a backstory. We don’t find out that his wife was Deaf or that he caused an accident that took his brother’s hearing or whatever; it’s just a thing he picked up along the way. Even if most of this movie is kind of a snooze, there are these moments throughout that give this a bit of a punch and is why I found myself a lot more positive by the end of it than I expected to be when I started.
Unforgiven and Gran Torino are still the most compelling capstones to his legacy, but this has a place in there as well. It’s a much quieter movie than either of those and I think the appeal lies in that; it’s understanding that time left can’t be WASTED; even if all you want to do is drive a kid around or hang out in a small village. Both of those other films had an emphasis on violence as a vicious cycle and ended with extreme acts of it to bring the story to a close. There’s a LITTLE bit of violence here just to spice things up, but it’s not the primary focus, so to some it might be a more welcome examination of how we make our way to the end of the road. Still, the movie doesn’t find enough interesting things to do in between that with the aforementioned violence being the most engaging moments to try and wake you up, but even with it being kind of a boring slog there’s enough there to get a VERY tentative recommendation from me. Not one you have to rush out to the theaters to see, but putting it on HBO Max was probably the best place for it and the ideal place to see it; especially since you can just hit pause and throw on something more interesting whenever it’s about to put you to sleep!