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’s no getting around the fact that “Cry Macho” is a slight work, a film that would be discarded out of hand if it weren’t from Clint Eastwood. At 91, this is the 40th movie he’s directed. Many his age have a hard time getting out of bed each morning, yet here Eastwood is, making a film during the COVID pandemic! With that in mind, perhaps we should grade this effort on a curve.
Over the past three decades, he’s gotten a great deal of mileage out of putting his screen persona under the microscope, slowly chipping away at the tough guy image that was his bread-and-butter, at times apologetic for it (“Unforgiven”), at others providing a humorous or perverse bent to it (“Every Which Way but Loose,” “Tightrope”) or stripping away the veneer to reveal a deeper layer (“Gran Torino”).
“Macho” belongs in the latter category as his character, Mike Milo excelled in an arena defined by machoism, only to realize that so much of his outsized posturing was for naught and that a more gentle, caring approach to life paves the way to contentment. To be sure, this is a simple sentiment, but the unaffected manner in which the story is told and the sincerity at its foundation are to be commended.
Once a championship rodeo rider, a severe injury forced Milo to hang up his spurs. Taking sympathy on him, rancher Howard Polk (Dwight Yoakam) has kept him on his payroll, even though they both know the old man isn’t pulling his weight. However, now Milo’s employer is calling in a favor by asking him to go to Mexico to retrieve his teenage son Rafo (Eduardo Minett), who’s supposedly being abused by his mother.
Upon calling John Wayne to pitch the movie “El Dorado” to him, director Howard Hawks was asked by the actor what the plot of the movie was. The filmmaker replied, “Oh, we won’t worry about the plot; we’ll just concentrate on the characters.” That’s what’s at play here. The reason for Polk’s desire to get his son back is vague, the trip Milo embarks on meanders and the ending of the movie is truncated. The story here is inconsequential – it’s nothing but a thin clothesline upon which Eastwood can hang a few meaningful scenes that speak to the overall theme.
The movie’s second act involves Milo and Rafo taking a prolonged siesta in a tiny Mexican village. They’re befriended by a kindly woman raising her four grandchildren; warm family meals between them and the two wayward travelers become routine. Meanwhile, a neighbor is having trouble breaking some wild horses. Milo comes to his aid, in the process teaching Rafo how to tame these animals. Lessons are learned, bonds are formed.
Again, this is a slight affair but there are moments that transcend the film as Eastwood’s presence speaks volumes and elevates the material. When Milo says to Rafo, “This macho thing is overrated. It’s like anything else in life. You think you have all the answers. Then you realize, as you get old, that you don’t have any of them. By the time you figure it out, it’s too late,” you can’t help but feel the actor is engaged in more than a little self-reflection.
This certainly isn’t the first time Eastwood’s taken a whack at deconstructing his on-screen image, though likely it’s his last. “Cry Macho” is not a highwater mark for the legend, but it’s still worth a look, not so much for the story it tells, but the subtext it contains.
2 1/2 Stars