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It doesn’t take long for Clint Eastwood’s Cry Macho to start making confounding and confusing decisions. The very first scene finds protagonist Mike Milo (Eastwood) driving into work, and upon his arrival he is met by his boss, Howard (Dwight Yoakam), who proceeds to chew him out for being late. Mike’s awful attitude forces the situation to escalate to the point where he is told to pack up his belongings. He does so and leaves, calling Howard a “small, weak and gutless man,” setting up what appears to be a bitter and antagonistic rapport.
Then, following a quick “one year later” chyron, Mike comes home to find Howard waiting for him in his living room, the ex-boss approaching the weary cowboy as a dear old friend in desperate need for his buddy’s help rescuing his estranged son – a deal that Mike agrees to out of a sense of obligation to his former employer. In an instant every notion about their tension-filled relationship established from the previous scene is eliminated.
It’s a wholly bizarre way of opening a movie – but somewhat in Cry Macho’s defense, it does do an appropriate job setting audiences up for the experience set to unfold. As appealing as the idea of seeing Clint Eastwood in a cowboy hat may be, this is a film that is ridiculously scattershot in its storytelling, all over the map with its characters, and spends the vast majority of its runtime meandering up until it feels it’s time to wrap things up with a deeply unsatisfying ending.
Very loosely based on the novel of the same name by author N. Richard Nash, and based on a script by Nash and Gran Torino/The Mule screenwriter Nick Schenk, Cry Macho is set in 1980 and follows Mike Milo – a retired former Texas rodeo star – as he takes on the alluded-to job. Howard tells him that his 13-year-old boy, Rafael (Eduardo Minett), is living with his mother in Mexico, and that he has some kind of esoteric feeling that the kid is being abused. Asking shockingly few questions considering he’s being asked to commit a felony, Mike says yes and heads across the border.
Sneaking into the mansion owned by Rafael’s mother, Leta (Fernanda Urrejola), and getting caught by her bodyguards, Mike learns that her son no longer lives with her, and instead has been getting by on the streets as a gambler and a criminal. Despite the fact that Mexico City has a population of over nine million people, the lead character is still able to find the teenager almost immediately by wandering into the first cockfight he can find. With practically zero convincing necessary, Rafael agrees to go live with his father in the states – though it’s against Leta’s will, and she feels additionally spurned when the 90-year-old man rejects her sexual advances.
Mike and Rafael begin their trip north to the United States, but all the while must contend with Leta’s bodyguard (Horacio Garcia Rojas) following them and the Federal police searching for them – not to mention car thieves and engine trouble.
Cry Macho never seems to know what it wants to do with its plot.
We have seen a surprising number of stories as of late following a male protagonist who is forced to shepherd a child on a long journey – in the last 12 months alone we’ve seen it in The Mandalorian Season 2, Paul Greengrass’ News Of The World, George Clooney’s The Midnight Sky, and Robert Lorenz’s The Marksman – but Cry Macho is unquestionably the most incompetent of the group. It begins with a lazy setup to get the plot going, doing a hell of a lot of telling instead of showing, and takes a number of narrative shortcuts, but things only get worse once Mike and Rafael come together, as once the movie gets the characters on the road it has no demonstrated clue of what to do with them.
If one makes the effort, it could easily only take a single day to drive from Mexico City to the Texas border, but the film manages to stretch out the excursion over multiple weeks, and 90% of the conflict encountered has nothing to do with the plot. It throws challenges at the leads seemingly not to test their character (there is no growth to be found for anyone in this story), but instead to ensure that Cry Macho makes it to a proper feature runtime. It’s just dumb when it’s small things, like Rafael getting needlessly upset when Mike won’t let him wear his hat, but it gets to a point of being infuriatingly tedious when the duo spends half a month in a small village because their stolen car is leaking oil.
Cry Macho’s characters are a complete mess.
The directionless plot in Cry Macho wouldn’t be a problem if one actually enjoyed spending time with the central characters, but that’s not something that is on the table, as there is nothing particularly engaging about the personalities. Eduardo Minett isn’t given any kind of track to follow as Rafael, and as a result he needlessly oscillates between being an optimistic child and a petulant brat (the former feeling cloying, and the latter being tiresome). With Dwight Yoakam’s Howard, things actually only get more bewildering after the first two scenes, as he reenters the plot three-quarters of the way through to, without any provocation, reveal a truth that changes the whole profile of the movie’s journey.
Truly the most bafflingly awful aspect of Cry Macho, however, is Clint Eastwood’s Mike, who ultimately comes across as an overstuffed ego trip for the director/star. This is character with not one, but two tragic backstories (his wife and child are killed in a car accident AND he was a drug addict and alcoholic following a horrible rodeo accident), and he is written as a spectacular and sexy polymath. Gorgeous women not only throw themselves at this nonagenarian, but he breaks horses, practices rudimentary veterinary medicine, repairs cars, fixes jukeboxes, knows sign language, and more. His only real flaw is that he can be irascible, but that’s hardly a noticeable trait given that it has been a part of all of Eastwood’s performances in recent years.
If you like pretty shots of roosters and other animals in the shining Mexican sun, that’s at least one positive reason to watch Cry Macho – but that’s really just me grasping to find anything legitimately nice to say about it. Fortunately, Clint Eastwood has a long legacy of terrific and classic western movies, and you should really watch or rewatch any of them before bothering with this one.