Everything is exactly as it seems in this mundane road trip western.
There’s a comforting simplicity to the world depicted in Cry Macho. Men are strong and stoic, women are either virtuous or temptresses, cities are dens of sin and vice, and everyone is always exactly who they appear to be. The nice thing about framing the world this way is it lets the viewer off the hook for their passivity. Don’t worry, you’re a good person! You work hard, are friendly to your neighbors, respectful to women, honor your word. And gosh, it’s a real shame that so many of the “good” Mexicans are suffering because of those mean ol’ drug lords but, what can you do? If only the young people nowadays had someone to teach them real skills like riding a horse or fixing a car, maybe they wouldn’t be so angry all the time.
Luckily for Rafo (Eduardo Minett), the troubled Mexican teen at the center of Cry Macho, Clint Eastwood is available to instruct him in the finer points of manliness. Eastwood plays Mike Milo, a washed-up former rodeo star tasked with bringing Rafo across the border to be reunited with his American father Howard (Dwight Yoakam). Howard is concerned for his son’s safety after growing up in Mexico City with his “crazy” ex-wife Leta (Fernanda Urrejola), and the boy has fallen prey to the indecent pursuits of car theft and cockfights.
Since everyone in Cry Macho is exactly who they appear to be, Leta is indeed every bit the crazy, selfish boogeyslut spoken of in hushed tones by scorned men everywhere. Urrejola is the only actor present who knows exactly what kind of film she’s in, and serves up full Mexican soap opera vixen as the corrupt and promiscuous Leta. It seems Leta has allowed her many boyfriends to abuse Rafo, so the youngster is naturally eager to hitch a ride with Mike along with his beloved fighting rooster Macho. A kid who names his cock “Macho” obviously has some exaggerated ideas about masculinity, but luckily the gruff and sardonic Mike is there to set an example for the poor fatherless teen as the pair engage in some road-trip bonding along the byways of Mexico while evading Leta’s henchman.
You’ve probably figured out by now that Cry Macho is not a film with much depth or complexity, which is what makes it a perfectly passable crowd pleaser. As a director, Eastwood’s technical skill is undeniable, and there’s little to complain about in the way the film is shot or edited. This is Eastwood’s first collaboration with cinematographer Ben Davis, who composes acceptably pleasing shots of the sunsets and scrub-covered hills of the film’s New Mexico location (the shot of wild horses galloping in tandem with Eastwood’s pickup is a bit much, however). Mark Macina’s twang-and-harmonica-infused score is similarly inoffensive and functional, but not much else.
The screenplay by Nick Schenk and N. Richard Nash is based on Nash’s 1975 book of the same name and has the pulpy, hackneyed prose of a tattered thrift store paperback. The story has an undeniable similarity to Eastwood’s 2008 film Gran Torino, which also features a reluctant white hero saving a young man of color from his culture’s dangerous criminal element while teaching him practical life skills. But while that film at least attempted to weave more character and complexity in with its white savior narrative, Cry Macho is content to merely deliver exactly what it says on the tin.
The right actors can infuse charm into even the clunkiest of dialogue, but aside from the heroically vamping Urrejola the rest of the cast plays the script too earnestly to elevate it above its paint-by-numbers conceits. Minett struggles to convey the complex interiority suggested by Rafo’s difficult childhood; the 52-year-old Natalia Traven earns combat pay as the angelic and one-dimensional love interest to 91-year-old Eastwood; and despite being given the lion’s share of the film’s overwrought exposition, Yoakam delivers his lines like they were handed to him five minutes before the cameras rolled.
It’s easy to understand why the bulk of the film takes place behind the wheel of a car, as Eastwood’s gaunt frame is ill-suited for more extreme physicality (thrown into stark relief by a scene that asks us to believe a 91-year-old man could physically menace a 17-year-old). That effortless charm is still present in the actor’s raspy croak, though, even as he clearly struggles to remember his lines. That this could be Eastwood’s last film is a sobering thought, and it’s not the triumphant swan song I would have preferred for the Hollywood legend, but Cry Macho is a simple and earnest, if mundane, epilogue to a great career.