Ever notice that there’s a difference between a ten-year-old and a 50-year old? Well, there’s a difference between a 50-year-old and a 90-year-old, too. Clint Eastwood does not seem to grasp this in Cry Macho, a movie in which he unwisely casts himself as Mike Milo, a washed-up former rodeo rider. I imagined the character being about 50. Eastwood is 91, and there’s a scene in which he has difficulty settling into a chair; you can practically hear his balsa-wood bones creak. He moves the way you would expect a 91-year-old man to move.
Yet here are the things Eastwood’s Mike Milo does in this movie: He slugs a rough hombre of about 30, who runs away and begs for help instead of knocking down feeble Mike with the nearest twig; he breaks a mustang who can’t be tamed by anyone else; he raises the temperature of a slutty lady in the prime of life who slinks invitingly across her sheets to beg him for some action; and he inspires a kindly café owner to reorient her emotional life around him. What future can she possibly picture with a guy who’s more than a dozen years older than Joe Biden?
I’m puzzled that Eastwood tapped himself to star in this movie, adapted from an N. Richard Nash novel of 1975. In the book, the old bull rider is 38, and notes ruefully that you’re an old man in his business by the time you reach voting age. Eastwood first expressed interest in starring in the movie back in 1988, when he was already 20 years too old for the part (but could still have carried it off).
I kept wondering whether the movie would work if Eastwood had cast, say, his pal Bradley Cooper (46) in the main role. Maybe. As it is, I cringed, cringed some more, then cringed out. I never thought I’d cringe this much in a Clint Eastwood movie. (Though I cringed quite a lot in his 1984 S&M flick Tightrope.) A director’s first duty is to put the right people in the right parts, and you don’t cast Pee-wee Herman as Rambo.
Eastwood already did an absolutely perfect curtain call with The Mule three years ago, a rueful and well-grounded film that acknowledged the limitations and regrets of advanced age, did not ask him to do anything more physical than drive a pickup, and didn’t pretend that finding a new girlfriend was the answer for a man born in the Hoover Administration. Kudos to him for being maybe the oldest person ever to either star in or direct a major studio picture, but Cry Macho is a weak follow-up to The Mule.
The new one is essentially a low-energy road-trip/redemption movie, a bit like Logan minus the steel claws. In 1980, Mike’s rancher boss, Howard Polk (Dwight Yoakam), fires him for being lazy and worthless, then inexplicably entrusts him with the delicate mission of going to Mexico to retrieve his kid, Rafo Polk (Eduardo Minett), from the boy’s wild mother (Fernanda Urrejola), a vamp who lives in palatial splendor south of the border and whose various boyfriends abuse Rafo. She says Mike can take the kid, who disgusts her and whom she calls a monster, but then she sends her henchmen out to stop Mike. It’s unclear if they’re gangsters who are supposed to murder Mike, but in any case they don’t seem to be trying very hard to retrieve the kid and are easily outsmarted. It turns out that two previous guys failed to retrieve Rafo for Howard, although Mike doesn’t do anything especially wily on his turn.
Instead of being a monster, the boy turns out to be a sensitive soul who just needs a little paternal attention, and he’s got a fighting rooster named Macho. This leads to Mike’s giving a climactic little sermon about how macho is overrated (though Macho turns out to be a godsend). I guess this is where the macho men in the audience are supposed to cry. I shrugged. The kid is played so annoyingly by the young Minett, who has a woe-is-me-but-aren’t-I-cute technique straight out of a 1930s film, that he never seems like anything but a cinematic cliché. If you don’t buy that these two are bonding, the film fails.
The café owner (Natalia Traven) who takes a liking to Mike is charming, and there are some nicely done low-key scenes in which he abandons his race to the border and spends several weeks gradually becoming an accepted member of her family. But otherwise, the movie has very little going for it: The redemption angle isn’t especially original or well-written, and Eastwood never puts much tension into the chase. I’m all for slowing things down at the movies, but I require a bit more than atmosphere. Even from Clint Eastwood.