Mid-America at the Movies: "Cry Macho" and the Clint Eastwood canon

Bridget Shileny and Robert Maharry
Mid-America Publishing

Even among Hollywood’s living legends, the great Clint Eastwood is in a class entirely of his own. The 91-year-old actor/director/producer/composer (for whatever reason, he’s never tried his hand at screenwriting) is back again this weekend with the neo-western “Cry Macho,” based on a 1975 novel by N. Richard Nash, and Rob and Bridget used this release as a good excuse to explore the life and times of one of the most iconic figures in the history of American cinema. 


Since he burst into superstardom, first on TV with “Rawhide” and then as The Man With No Name-- a role that marquee names including Henry Fonda, Charles Bronson and James Coburn all turned down-- in Sergio Leone’s genre-defining 1964 Spaghetti Western “A Fistful of Dollars” and its subsequent sequels, Eastwood has worked incessantly both in front of and behind the camera over a career that’s spanned more than a half century. He’s directed a whopping 43 films (two of them, 1992’s “Unforgiven” and 2004’s “Million Dollar Baby” won him Oscars for Best Director and Best Picture) and appeared in at least 60, redefining the Western and the image of the mythic, infallible John Wayne cowboy along the way. He’s also managed to outlive and outlast most of his contemporaries: in his age range, Robert Duvall is the only other high profile actor who’s still showing up in movies at all. 


Despite his association with the genre, however, Eastwood stepped away from frontier stories after “Unforgiven,” so it’s a bit of a surprise that he’s taking another stab at a script that Roy Scheider, Pierce Brosnan and Arnold Schwarzenegger have all been attached to in the past (none of the productions were ever completed). In this version, Eastwood plays lead character Mike Milo, a washed up rodeo star asked to escort the son (Eduardo Minett) of an old boss (Dwight Yoakam) back to the U.S. from Mexico, where he’s living with his mother. Because of the title and the director/star’s auteurist leanings, it’s a safe bet that he’ll deeply examine his masculinity and past failures in the process-- like last week’s column subject, Paul Schrader, most of his work features tough guys haunted by feelings of inescapable guilt and shame. 


So, is “Cry Macho” another instant classic from the man who just never stops working and will almost certainly die on a film set? Let’s find out. 


“Cry Macho” is available in theaters and on HBO Max for one month. 


Before we saddle up, a quick primer. Most readers are probably familiar with the cornerstones of Eastwood’s filmography: the Westerns, “Dirty Harry,” that little movie he shot in Iowa with Meryl Streep, and the more recent “grumpy old man” stories like “Million Dollar Baby” and “Gran Torino.” Are there any lesser known or underappreciated titles you’d like to shout out? 


Bridget: Well, I would say that my favorite Eastwood movies are indeed a couple of the most obvious ones, “Unforgiven” and “Million Dollar Baby.” I think Eastwood’s grumpy old man schtick plays well in these movies and isn’t so overdone at those points in his career. If I had to mention a lesser-known film (probably only slightly lesser-known, considering it’s still played often on cable TV), I would point to “The Outlaw Josey Wales” as a favorite. In this gritty Oscar-nominated Western from 1976, Eastwood plays a Confederate Civil War soldier on the run from the Union soldiers who murdered his family. It’s a harsh tale of revenge and features Eastwood at a great time in his career. My dad loved this movie and I still enjoy it myself. 


Rob: I wholeheartedly endorse Bridget’s recommendation of “Josey Wales,” which is one of my favorite westerns. Although it made $135 million at the box office and starred Kevin Costner at the height of his powers, I don’t feel like “A Perfect World” from 1993 (Clint’s first film after “Unforgiven”) gets the respect that it deserves. Costner subverted his all-American good guy image to play an escaped convict on the run who kidnaps a boy and draws the attention of Eastwood, a grizzled Texas Ranger, and a younger criminologist (Laura Dern) hot on his trail. On the older side, I’d shout out the 1968 World War II epic “Where Eagles Dare,” starring Eastwood alongside British acting titan Richard Burton as Allied troops forced to undertake a perilous mission infiltrating the Nazis and saving a general who’s been taken prisoner, and Michael Cimino’s 1974 oddball road movie “Thunderbolt and Lightfoot,” co-starring Jeff Bridges. Oh, and I know journalists aren’t supposed to like it, but “Richard Jewell” is one of Eastwood’s best directorial efforts of the last 20 years. 


Alright, let’s talk “Cry Macho.” What’s the setup, and who is Clint charged with mentoring this time? 


Bridget: Eastwood’s Mike Milo is an old rodeo star who apparently owes Dwight Yoakam’s character, Howard, several favors, so he has to travel to Mexico to retrieve Howard’s teenage son Rafa. Rafa is your stereotypical kid who is rebelling against his mother and instead of hanging out at her mansion, enjoys living on the streets and cock-fighting with his rooster named Macho. (To be fair, Rafa’s mother is a crazy alcoholic who seemingly rules over some sort of empire, surrounded by hapless henchmen). It turns out, Rafa has no love lost for his mom and goes with Mike on the promise of living the good life back in Texas onhis dad’s ranch surrounded by horses and the majesty of the rodeo. Mike and Rafa embark on a stereotypical road trip through the Mexican countryside and not too surprisingly face a variety of challenges on the way even as Mike doles out life lessons. 


Rob: As the trip goes on, Mike and Rafa start to develop a bond, with breaks both lucky and unlucky (they’re forced to steal a car after Mike’s gets stolen), and they take refuge at a restaurant owned by Marta (Natalia Traven). In another unsurprising twist if you’re a follower of Eastwood, Marta almost instantly falls for him despite the fact that they don’t speak the same language and barely know each other. The reason that Howard wants Rafa back turns out to be more complicated than we’re initially led to believe, and the relationship between the primary characters begins to sour as a result. Bridget, anything else we should know before we get to our impressions? 


Bridget: Let’s jump into it! Since I usually end up sharing my opinion first, why don’t you tell us your overall thoughts on “Cry Macho.” 


Rob: It’s exactly what you’d expect from Clint at this juncture in his career. For at least 30 years now, he’s been the old guy with a life full of regrets (in “Cry Macho,” he lost his wife and child in a car accident), and despite concerns about his physical ability to play this role, I thought he handled it pretty well. He’s still a commanding screen presence, and when he delivers one of his trademark verbal jabs, viewers pay attention. My biggest gripe-- and I’m sure Bridget will expand on this-- is with Minett’s performance as Rafa. Eastwood is famous for his anti-Kubrick directing style of no more than one to two takes on any given scene, but I think the youngster, who’s making just his third credited appearance, according to IMDB, could’ve used a few more. And I was a little disappointed that Yoakam, who’s a great actor as well as a great musician, was barely utilized. Bridget, what did you think? 


Bridget: Though Clint Eastwood reminds me a lot of my grandpa in this movie, it really wasn’t enough to make me enjoy it all that much. My grandpa also grumbled around and muttered curses under his breath, but it wasn’t that entertaining watching Eastwood do it here. I think Clint is just a little long-in-the-tooth for this one. I would have rather seen Pierce Brosnan or even Robert Duvall play the role of Mike. I didn’t for a moment believe that it was Eastwood on horseback attempting to break a wild animal. He just can’t do what he used to do and I’m not just talking about riding horses well. And that’s fine. At this point, I wish he would largely stay behind the camera unless it’s a small, very well-suited role. And the young Minett, like Rob said, is just out of his league. He doesn’t really hit the emotional highs and lows that are needed in this movie and comes across as a mediocre actor in a high school play. They needed a young actor with more experience. Of the three main characters, I thought that the fighting rooster, Macho, acquitted himself the best! Rob, the premise of the story is pretty simple, but did you find it compelling and interesting? Basically, did it work for you?


Rob: I’m all about the “Gringo goes to Mexico on a dangerous journey” plot setup, and I love films that showcase the country’s gorgeous rural scenery. So this one scratched the itch, but it doesn’t stack up to the best entries in that subgenre. Even Clint’s treatise on masculinity-- he says something to the effect of “Everybody’s trying to be macho, but it doesn’t really do any good”-- feels like a rehash of more thoughtful and better written speeches he’s given before. Overall, I’m a little warmer on “Cry Macho” than you are, Bridget, but I think it’s mostly for diehard Eastwood fans and completists. Any closing thoughts? 


Bridget: In the entries of grizzled old man and kid go on a road trip, I think “Logan” did it really well. “Cry Macho” just wasn’t for me as I am realizing I’m not a huge late-Eastwood career fan. The only part that I thought was enjoyable was when the traveling pair hid out in the village in the second half of the movie. The sentimentality of it got me briefly, and I found it sweet and cute and all that. But the ending dropped off. I didn’t feel much tension at all, and the momentary attempt to foil the characters in the big escape was just lame. It was as if everything was tamed way down so Eastwood could participate in the action. I think you’re right, Rob- hardcore Eastwood fans will still likely enjoy this, but for the lukewarm ones like me, this was skippable. 


Stay tuned for the latest edition of the column next week, and as always, send your feedback and/or topic suggestions to Bridget (news@wrightcountymonitor.com) or Rob (publisher@grundyregister.com). Thanks for reading!



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