Starring: Clint Eastwood, Eduardo Minett, Natalia Traven
Director: Clint Eastwood
Mood: If your idea of a good time is a Western that feels like it’s being told by a 90-year-old because it is in fact being told by a 90-year-old.
“I used to be a lot of things, but I’m not now. And I’ll tell you something. This macho thing is overrated… It’s like anything else in life. You think you got 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.”
Mike Milo (Clint Eastwood)
Let’s get this out of the way, right away: I did not like Cry Macho AT ALL.
I don’t care how many Clint Eastwood fans it costs me to say that. My journalism degree demands that I speak the truth, and my current truth is that Cry Macho is a huge disappointment. I waited almost a year for the DVD to come down in price, and I’m still regretting that $10.
The movie is beautifully shot, no arguing that. There’s also a good moral here, about what it means to be ‘macho’ in a world that rewards violence and aggression in men. But Cry Macho struggles endlessly with pacing, acting, and storytelling.
You know you’ve got a problem when the standout performance is a rooster.
Wait – maybe that’s actually the point. The rooster’s name is Macho, so maybe you’re supposed to fall in love with the rooster and not the humans. It worked.
SPOILER ALERT: In this section I rant about most of the plot, and why it’s utterly ridiculous.
Cry Macho is a modern Western that follows washed up rodeo star and horse breeder Mike Milo (Clint Eastwood) on a mission to rescue a young boy from Mexico. He’s doing this because he owes his former employer, Howard, who supported him for years while he was drunk and depressed. But the way this is all rolled out is totally implausible.
For starters, in the original book* the movie was based upon, Milo is in his late 30s. Eastwood’s eyes may be sharp under that hat, but he’s still a frail, stuttering nonagenarian. It makes NO sense that this is the man tasked to drive into Mexico, steal a teenage boy from a rich woman involved with drug cartels, and get him back across the border with no paperwork.
And the way Yoakam and Eastwood enact the scene, you just can’t buy that Howard thinks Milo is up for the task, let alone that Milo would accept after almost no argument and can even walk out his door.
Anyway, Milo goes down to Mexico, strolls into a mansion during a party held by this rich woman (no security at the gates?!), and is brought to meet her. She says her son is street trash and that Milo can have him if he can find him. Then that GORGEOUS, powerful Latina makes a pass at a man who is so old he can barely stand at the foot of her bed, and becomes so enraged when he refuses that she throws a tantrum and has him followed.
Milo finds young Rafe (Eduardo Minett) at a cockfight with his rooster, Macho. But uh-oh! The mom is now dangerously opposed to her son leaving (women and their mood swings, amiright?), so Milo turns back to Texas – but Rafe has snuck along in the back seat! With a live rooster, but somehow never noticed until they are far from town!
Now these two are on a buddy road trip to the border, pursued by the Federales – Federales who are easily dissuaded when they encounter a “closed” sign on any suspicious building.
And it’s literally the slowest escape you’ve ever seen in your life. Milo and Rafe stop for two weeks in a small town where they hang out in public, and break horses at a ranch that openly welcomes an ancient stranger and a teenager who has never sat a horse to handle their animals after just a brief introduction. Sometimes the bad guys are walking toward a building, and these two stand in the empty field out back discussing the fact that they should probably get going at some point.
Whether or not it was intentional, Macho the rooster is the titular character in Cry Macho and is the movie’s best actor – or best 11 actors, because that’s how many birds played Macho. You really root for him in every scene, and he repeatedly saves the day. But to be fair, Macho has no dialogue. The script didn’t have much room to fail him, unlike the rest of the characters.
Now, that script was based on a 1975 novel* that was actually a story reworked from a rejected script and then, upon receiving good book reviews, immediately resold as a “new” script. Something definitely got lost in translation… or rather, everything. Reminiscent of that NewsRadio episode where Jimmy James translates his book into Japanese and then back again.
Despite the fact that Eastwood is a good director, and Hollywood’s most senior director at 92 years old, AND he got up on a horse for the first time since 1992’s Unforgiven, there’s just not much here. He seems to struggle with his lines, like there weren’t any good takes to use so they worked with what they had.
What I hope is that Eastwood intended Cry Macho to be a commentary on his own definition of macho after a lifetime in film. When Milo reflects with Rafe on what it means to be macho, the line I quoted at the top of this review, it feels like the real Eastwood coming through.
Eduardo Minett is actually pretty good as Rafe. Although at times you feel like the dialogue makes weird choices and feels forced, that’s not his fault. He shows solid range for his age and experience.
The only other person worth mentioning is Natalia Traven, who plays a widowed Mexican grandmother raising her grandchildren. Travern radiates such a natural warmth that you kind of just want her to hug you and take care of you forever.
This script has a crazy, decades-old history, despite the fact that it’s still quite underwhelming and has never been properly updated for modern audiences of any decade.
As mentioned, it was rejected in the ’70s by Fox, then rewritten by its original author as a book, then pushed back into a script that some studio bought. In 1988, Eastwood received it but declined to participate. In 1991 it was adapted again, but went nowhere. Burt Lancaster and Pierce Brosnan were on board at different times. But here’s the kicker – in 2003, Arnold Schwarzenegger signed up to star in Cry Macho. He deferred its production until he was done being The Governator™, but the project was derailed in 2011 because of the scandal about his secret son with a maid.
Can you imagine? What if the awkward English of Schwarzy combined with this awful script was like two negatives making a brilliant positive?
I’m not holding Cry Macho against anyone involved for this massive box office flop. I genuinely love seniors. When forced to socialize, I actually dislike almost every age group except seniors. If Eastwood wants to use his connections and his fortune to keep making Westerns, all the power to him. He’s f*cking earned it.
I hope I’m still that big of a Western fan in my 90s. Hell, I hope I’m alive and can climb up on a horse.