MOVIE REVIEW: CRY MACHO is a throwback to the classic western and a swan song for Eastwood


Clint Eastwood’s latest film, Cry Macho, lands in theaters and HBO Max this weekend, but it feels like a throwback to an earlier time, both literally and in spirit.

There’s a certain feeling to much of the latter-day output of Clint Eastwood as actor and auteur. From Million Dollar Baby, through to Gran Torino and Cry Macho; he’s typically a man out of his time, trying his best to adapt to a modern world and its changes that threaten his existence on a historical and existential level. From not understanding how the world is changing around him due to the influx of Hmong immigrants in his community in Gran Torino to not wanting to train women to box because that’s not what women do in Million Dollar Baby, the auteur in Eastwood’s films is the outsider who was once the standard-bearer but whom society has now left behind as he struggles to find a place for himself in the world.

This theme is very prevalent in Eastwood’s latest film, Cry Macho, which opens in theaters and HBO Max this weekend. Here’s Eastwood plays Mike Milo, a former rodeo star/ranchhand whose best days are long behind him as we meet him at the start of the film. Milo broke his back as a rodeo rider on a wild stallion and has never been the same since the loss of his livelihood and, shortly thereafter, his wife and child in an auto accident. His former boss, played by Dwight Yoakam, has grown tired of his sallow slip into self-medication and depression and lets him go once it seems to him that his best days are long, long behind him. A year goes by and Yoakam returns to visit Eastwood’s Mike Milo to get his help one last time. Yoakam had fathered a son down in Mexico City 13 years earlier and needs his help to go down to Mexico to retrieve his son for him. Yoakam tells him the boy loves cowboys and ranchhands and will respond to Mike if he does this favor for him. So Mike heads down to Mexico in his old camper shell truck to find this boy, Rafa, played by Eduardo Minett, to see if he can sell the boy on the wonders of living life at a horse ranch in Texas.

One of the issues that Cry Macho holds for me is the nature of the period piece. The film is set in a nebulous 1970s/1980s America. As such it holds many of the stereotypes and caricatures prevalent in the fiction of that period. Rafa’s mother is a hot-blooded Latina who is lusty and evil as it is convenient to the plot. The film’s script is based on a novel from the 1970s. As such, it draws caricatures out of many of its Mexican characters rather than character studies, rather than treating them as people with backstories that inform their lives and decisions in a linear and realistic fashion. Milo’s worldview is informed by his traditional post-War background as a white American. That’s the world view he considers the correct one and it informs all his interactions in the film. From complaining that dirty Mexican water will give him stomach problems to bonding via breaking horses and letting the boy drink booze as a shortcut to bonding. In and of itself, that makes the film a hard watch for people who aren’t fans of films from this era, or who aren’t the built-in demographic of Eastwood fans who would see this film. On one hand, that’s a shame since Minett’s performance opposite Eastwood is actually a good one, minus the stilted accent he affects early in the film and the comical subplot involving his cockfighting rooster named Macho. Eastwood’s naturalistic style of acting works well with the film’s straightforward story; even if there are a few too many scenes that are contrived excuses for him to leap into action and beat up the bad guy. While the laconic pacing plays to Eastwood’s strengths, it doesn’t so much for the film, which feels longer than it is and with its simplistic storyline.

But overall, Cry Macho feels like a swan song for the classic image of the lone cowboy Eastwood often played. At 91, it is unlikely we’ll get to see another Western adventure with Eastwood and this film plays the hits as it were for fans of Eastwood. For those who enjoyed films like Easy Rider, Unforgiven, and The Man With No Name trilogy, it is one last chance to see Eastwood play to that aesthetic and audience. In that regard, Cry Macho does its job, even if the film doesn’t have a rich antagonist for Eastwood to play off as in those other films. It’s an elegy; a character study from another time and it works on that level, but maybe not as a fully fleshed feature.

Ultimately, Cry Macho is an interesting farewell, a dissection of a character from another time in a world where he doesn’t belong. It is an interesting counter piece to a similar latter-day Western in John Wayne’s Rooster Cogburn in terms of theme. It’s not Eastwood’s best film, but it is an interesting minor work that lets his audience bid farewell to the western archetype.